§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
On a point of Order. Before the Minister begins, might I ask for his assistance on a point in regard to the discussion of this very important Measure? It was certainly expected that it would be debated during a full Parliamentary Sitting, but that is not now possible to-day as the time available has been encroached on by other matters. May I also point out 360 that three Ministers are concerned? There is an expenditure of over £21,000,000 by the Treasury and an anticipated very heavy expenditure by local authorities. I know the Rule cannot be suspended now, but may we have some indication of what the Government propose to do? I take it they cannot possibly finish the Second Reading stage of this Bill to-day.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)
We are all very sorry, I am sure, that time has been lost as my hon. and learned Friend indicates. On the other hand, the Bill is a short one and a good deal in it has already been discussed. It would be possible, later, to suspend the Rule for a short time. Perhaps we might proceed on the basis that we may be able to deal with this Bill in the time at our disposal.
§ Mr. Davies
On a point of Order. May I ask how it is possible, at this late stage, to extend the time? I thought that that would have to be done earlier.
§ Mr. Sloan (Ayrshire, South)
This Bill is of some importance to many people and I think it very unfortunate that we should have to discuss this Bill within such a limited time. Supposing the time is extended, are we to have any indication of how long that extension will be? There are three Ministers to speak and Ministers, generally, swallow up the major part of the time. There are Members in all parts of the House who are intensely interested in this subject, and I shall be very glad of some indication of how long the extension, if there is an extension, will last.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I think it would be better to see how much time the Ministers occupy and then, if it is thought necessary, a Motion to extend the time can be put.
§ Mr. Willink
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is the first occasion on which I have had the honour of moving the Second Reading of a Bill, and I am fortunate in two respects. First, it is a Bill which looks as if it would commend itself to the House, and, secondly, I am having an opportunity of filling out what I had to say in rather hurried circumstances—covering a very wide field—in the Debate on the White Paper. This Bill is an important part of the Government's general reconstruction programme. I hope it will commend itself to the House as a good example of preparatory legislation, even at a time when we are so pre-occupied with the war. There was undoubted progress between the two wars in the matter of our rural water supplies, but many of our villages are still without the amenity of piped water. During the war it is quite inevitable that social improvements are held up. We have to devote our energies and resources to the winning of the war, but when the war ends we must be ready with our plans to make a substantial start, as early as possible, with the extensions of water supplies and sewerage. The object of this Bill is to foster and stimulate the making of those plans so that we shall be ready to make a sustained attack, without one day's unnecessary delay, on 362 the problem of the 30 per cent. of the inhabitants of rural England and Wales who are still beyond the reach of adequate wholesome supplies of water in pipes. I leave out Scotland for a moment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland does not propose to speak, but he is here to answer any question of special Scottish interest that arises. This Bill, of course, contains the novel feature that it proposes to give stimulus and assistance to the extension of sewerage facilities, because the moment one goes into this question one finds that the greater use of water, which is an immediate result of the laying of pipes, brings with it drainage and sewage disposal problems which have to be solved.
The situation which this Bill proposes to create is one in which plans for the extension of mains and sewers can be designed. The plans can be prepared in detail now, and the Bill will give a guarantee that, when the time comes to do the work, the Government will come to the help of rural authorities who, in planning their extensions of piped water and sewerage, would be faced with a cost beyond what the local ratepayers and the consumers could reasonably be expected to bear. It is for that purpose that the Government, in this Bill, invited Parliament to make a far more generous provision for providing water in the country than has ever previously been thought of, let alone enacted. The consequence, we believe, will be that local authorities will get on with the designing of their schemes so far as staffs and consultants are available—that is a very real difficulty at the moment, both locally and at the centre—and we feel quite secure that no authority need be deterred by a feeling that it cannot afford a scheme. On that question I am reminded that, on another occasion, some were asking whether we were satisfied that £15,000,000 was, enough to do the work. Put in that form, of course, the question admits of only one answer—£5,000,000 is not enough to do the work. But I would remind the House that the duty of securing a proper supply of water for any district lies on the local authority. That is where the duty lies for securing the supply. It is for them, by one means or another, either to provide the service themselves or to make arrangements with others to see that their district is supplied with water. 363 There is a similar general duty under the Public Health Act with regard to sewerage and the disposal of sewage. It is the local authority's duty to do this at the cost of the rates so far as sewerage is concerned, and, in the case of water, at the cost of the consumer of the water, with the rates to fall back on in case of any deficiency. That is how the matter stands in the first place. This Bill does not—
§ Mr. Levy (Elland)
May I interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend? I am sorry to do so, but I want to ask him whether he contemplates a perpetuation of the existing system which has been running for the last Boo years—perhaps not quite so long—which he is now outlining and which has utterly failed.
§ Mr. Willink
I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) should interrupt me with such a question. He knows perfectly well that I do not propose that the present system should go on. He knows that this Bill deals with only the immediate problem and that legislation relating to these further matters has already been indicated. I am, and have been up to now, dealing only with the legal position—where the duty lies—and I have pointed out that, so far as sewerage is concerned, it is a matter for the rates. So far as water is concerned, there is, in addition, the consumer. We do not propose in this Bill to take that duty, that responsibility, away from the local authorities. What we propose to do is to help the local authorities to shoulder that duty by relieving them of part of the financial burden. We all know what the case for that help is, and that, whether one looks at the parish or the district or even the county, there are many areas where the cost is beyond local resources. But £15,000,000 for England and Wales, and the other figure of a little over £6,000,000 for Scotland, were never intended to meet the whole cost. Why should they? These sums are a grant-in-aid—a very generous grant-in-aid, I hope the House will agree, over and above the block grant—to those authorities who are found, when the time comes to assess their capacity, to be unable to bear the whole cost themselves. This matter of water supply is, very definitely, a field in which the phrase "To each according to his need" is applicable. There are some 364 very needy authorities, but under this Bill it will be possible to treat them very handsomely indeed. The greater the need, the higher the grant. There is this, too, in the Bill, that wherever there is an Exchequer grant, that will carry with it a contribution also from the county council to the rural district which bears the primary responsibility, and it is contemplated that the county contribution will, normally, be not less than the Exchequer grant.
The result of this lay-out will be, what I may colloquially call, a partnership between the State and the local and county ratepayers. The point at which we shall start will be to assess what is a reasonable share to be borne by the authority on whom the statutory duty lies, but not to assess it by any rigid formula, because we feel that this is very definitely a case where the less red tape and the more elasticity the better. We propose to assess the share of the particular local authority on the basis of its financial position when the time comes to put these works actually in hand and then, where appropriate, the county council and the Exchequer will come in to take their share. One starts, of course, with the consumers. They will be expected to pay a reasonable amount in water charges. The rough measure of that—speaking very broadly—is that we should expect the consumer in a small house to bear a charge of something like a penny a day. The district rate will then meet what it reasonably can of any deficiency, a deficiency which decreases with added numbers of consumers. The House will already have realised that one of the points in this Bill is that it will be the district rate, not the parish rate, which will take the first shock of any deficiency beyond what is paid by the consumers—that is in Clause 7 of the Bill—and it will be the rest that will be met, if there is a remainder, by the county council and the Exchequer. The sharing of the burden will be on exactly the same principle with regard to sewerage, except that quite obviously with regard to sewerage there is no consumer's charge.
In the 20 years between the two wars we estimate that the percentage of country dwellers without access to piped water was halved, that is, it was reduced from 60 per cent. to 30 per cent. On this question of cost, and the part the new proposal for grant will play, it is perhaps 365 convenient to recall that a rough pointer to the amount of work done—that halving of the number of people without piped supplies—is the amount of money involved. The amount borrowed by rural district councils for water supply purposes during the period was just short of £13,000,000. This new grant-in-aid, it is true, is to deal with sewerage as well as water but, as the House will observe, it is larger than the sum borrowed for water supply purposes over the course of 20 years. We must admit that in that 20 years most of the easier jobs were done—it is as well to face that fact—and many of the more financially difficult extensions remain to be done. On the other hand, we have to bear in mind that the consumers and the local authorities are asked to bear only a reasonable burden and that the Exchequer grant and help from the county councils come in wherever help is wanted. Of course, the county may come in whether or not there is a case for Exchequer grant, but the grant will not be given except on the terms that the county also contributes. Those who advise me on these matters, both on the administrative and the technical side, are confident that if everybody plays his part, this sum of £15,000,000 will enable us to break the back of the problem of the 30 per cent. and of the sewerage problem as well.
It is natural to ask, and the question has already been asked, on what principles the allocation of the grant will be made. I have already indicated in part the answer to that question. I can say this: we shall take account—and I am sure I am speaking for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as well—of the level of rates, of the charges proposed to be made on the consumer, of the general burden of loan charges on the authority, of other charges known to be impending on other schemes or services, in short of the financial outlook for the particular authority and of the whole case they put up, both on technical merits and on their need for financial assistance in carrying the scheme. We do not believe that any rigid rules as to the division or allocation or priority of this grant will be wise. We have the administrative experience of the allocation of the grant of 1934, which I am informed worked to the satisfaction of rural authorities. We believe we ought to have complete flexibility.
§ Mr. Willink
Apart from the question of the county council—and there was not then the sewerage work—the grant was dealt with quite flexibly, without fixed rules. So we could help to the greatest possible extent those who needed grants and we were not bound to give a grant in a case where it was not necessary that an authority should have the money.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
Will account be taken of whether it would be advisable or otherwise for a very small water authority to continue to exist, or whether it could not do much better by being absorbed by a neighbouring authority which has better facilities for extending the supply?
§ Mr. Willink
I intended to say something about that matter. As the hon. Member knows, a power to the Minister to compel amalgamation and to direct bulk supply from one authority to another will be included in the major legislation which we intend to introduce after discussions with those who are interested. That will be a complicated Bill: this is an immediate matter. This is a matter of first things first, and we believe that this is a proper and useful assistance in the particular work which we desire the local authorities to put in hand. I shall say something in a moment or two about the extent to which the mere machinery of grant gives us a lever with which to induce sensible arrangements where sensible arrangements have not originally been suggested by a particular local authority.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
Will it not unnecessarily complicate matters to give Government grants to small undertakings which, under further legislation, will probably cease to exist?
§ Mr. Willink
No, Sir. I am sure that what will be done under this Measure should not complicate or embarrass the major Measure, and I am quite sure that the rural districts will welcome this provision in advance of the major water legislation, which could not possibly have been introduced at this early date. There are good reasons for taking this anticipatory step in advance of the other legislation, with which, of course, we shall press on, because no one knows better 367 than my hon. Friend that it is not the easiest thing in the world, particularly with the present shortage of skilled and technical staff, to make our plans in this field.
What we chiefly desire this Bill for, is to give encouragement to small authorities in the country to get on with what can be done even under present conditions. My officers at the Ministry are eager to help rural authorities by considering and examining their outline schemes, even by means of local inquiry. What we wish and hope is that schemes shall be as far forward as possible towards the stage of letting contracts after the end of the war in Europe. That is the preparatory action we wish to see being taken in the coming months.
Questions have also been asked as to the structure of the organisation in the Ministry of Health itself. In view of the increased responsibility which will fall on my Department, both in connection with this Bill and still more in connection with the coming major proposals, a separate Water Division has been established in the Ministry, which will deal also with questions of river pollution. I should like to say here that I owe a debt to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, because he has agreed, I feel sure at great inconvenience to himself, to release his chief engineer, who has returned to his old Department, the Ministry of Health, to take up the corresponding post there. My new chief engineering inspector has very wide experience of water supply and sewerage problems, and has had the opportunity during his recent sojourn in Scotland of studying rural water questions and rural sewerage questions in that country also. I am also in the happy position that, although his predecessor has technically retired under the age limit, I am enabled to retain his valuable services in an advisory capacity. Both the administrative and technical staffs of the Ministry of Health will be further strengthened at the earliest possible opportunity to meet this work, because, though this Bill is short, and though one can say £15,000,000 in a second, the actual working out and examining of all the new schemes and the equitable allocation of the grant will be a very big job indeed.
Let me say a word about the relation of these proposals to the wider matters in 368 the White Paper, in particular the question of overlapping and proper planning. There will be some schemes of wide range, but we envisage a very large proportion of the work under this Bill in England and Wales as consisting of simple extensions of mains and sewers, simple, but quite often long and costly.
Where a local scheme, using local sources, is adequate, a local scheme it will be. Where it appears that a larger combined scheme, covering a number of villages and possibly more local government areas than one, is desirable, local authorities will be required to frame a scheme of that kind before they can get a grant. I should like here to acknowledge, with appreciation, the work of some of the county councils. Some of them have used their power to make grants, a power which they have had since 1929, as a lever in the way I haves described, to get the best possible scheme for the greatest number of people. I can promise the House, though I doubt whether there should be any need for the promise to be given, that my technical staff will not look at these schemes from a parochial point of view; they will look at them from a sound technical point of view, on the basis that I have already indicated. There are places where a local scheme from local sources is best; there are others where a wider scheme is necessary. But I would not say, as some people, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Elland, would say, that this is a matter for a centralised organisation, with no localised aspect to it.
On the question of information, the House will remember that a substantial part of the White Paper deals with the need for more information as to sources, and so forth. We have, in my Department, a mass of information based on inquiries, visits, surveys, and on material collected during the war in the various regions, and, of course, access to the Geological Survey and other Departments. That background of information will grow and be more systematised and it will be extended when the proposals in the White Paper become operative and the behaviour and quality of sources is recorded, when we have our organisation for examining regionally the long-term needs and so forth. But these rural extensions are not normally of a kind which will make very serious demands on water sources.
§ Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman set up regional organisations in a thorough way until he gets his major legislation?
§ Mr. Willink
The regional organisations are, for the most part, in being, where necessary. They have no statutory powers, they have no statutory existence, but they are there. It was not even suggested that many more of them should be created. In many cases the county is by no means an unsatisfactory unit, but in many other cases the regional advisory water committee is in being, and it is only a question of deciding what its statutory powers should be under the major legislation.
When one considers the total number of persons concerned—2,000,000, out of 40,000,000 in the country, very scattered—one can see that the call on water resources, whether streams or wells, is relatively not heavy. No enormous increase in reservoirs or in other headworks, such as pumping plant, is necessary in some cases. There may be a need to tap a new local source.
§ Mr. Willink
I am not leaving them out. I was only indicating one important point we shall have to have in mind when considering the resources we shall need. In many cases it is not a question of the deficiency of the source, but of the absence of pipes.
§ Mr. Willink
My hon. Friend talks about the resources being inadequate. The word "resources" is an indefinite one. If he means pipes, of course they are in, adequate, if he means water resources, of course they are inadequate in some places.
§ Mr. Willink
The interruption is one which cannot be dealt with adequately by any reply now. Perhaps my hon. Friend will take an opportunity of raising the matter on an appropriate occasion.
§ Mr. Speaker
The conservation of water is outside the scope of the Bill, and is not a matter that we can discuss on the Second Reading
§ Mr. Willink
This is an urgent matter: this is a matter which must be dealt with in proper order of priority, and in which we must keep a proper perspective, doing first what should come first. We might, ideally, like to make a complete survey of resources, but it is really the case that there is not available at the moment the necessary technical staff. The engineering staff is performing the most essential functions, in the Army and elsewhere, and we have to do what we can. We believe that the work that can be done under this Bill will not prejudice later development. We believe that we should be open to very serious criticism if we did not enable this type of work to be done. As I have already said, the majority of the schemes will be simple extensions of a kind which would be necessary under any larger scheme, however planned. 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.
The Bill goes beyond the mere question of grant; it defines the obligations of the authorities more closely, and it gives them rather more powers. There may be some cases in which progress of a satisfactory kind will not be possible without the powers in the later Bill, but we believe that those are the exceptional cases, and that the preparation of most of the schemes can go ahead. Where there is a conflict of priority between water supply and sewerage, although one cannot be precise, as a general rule it will be desirable to give preference to water over sewerage schemes. I shall, in all this work, maintain very close contact with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. As the House is aware, his Department is going to have an extended scheme for water for agriculture, covering farm houses and cottages as well. 371 That additional facility will combine with the scheme of this present Bill to bring water to more farms and farm cottages than was possible under the Act of 1934, when my right hon. Friend had not got those powers.
Not only are these proposals relevant from the point of view of agriculture, but they are of first-class importance from the point of view of rural housing. Better housing is not secured merely by building new houses: existing houses must, wherever possible, have the amenity of piped water; and we believe that this Bill will bring piped water to almost all villages and hamlets now without it. Perhaps I might deal, very shortly, with the structure of the Bill itself. The Explanatory Memorandum sets that out, but it may be convenient for the House if I condense the Clauses. First, there is the necessary provision for grants and a list of the authorities who may receive them. The list includes not only rural districts, but boroughs and urban districts, for the simple and commonsense reason that somethimes there are what the Bill describes as "rural localities" in boroughs and in urban districts.
In Clause 2 there is a provision that Exchequer grant will attract county council grants. That is merely putting on a basis of obligation, for the benefit of the countryside, what has been fairly regularly done by county councils, who for the most part have aided rural water and sewerage schemes. In Clause 3 the Bill enacts in terms, what is already the general practice of progressive authorities, that local authorities should supply, or secure, water in pipes—there has never been an obligation with regard to piped water; it has merely been a matter of wholesome water—wherever they can, and bring it to places convenient for connections to houses. In Clause 4 there is a slight alteration in the default machinery, which enables the Minister of Health, where necessary, to transfer to himself the functions and powers of an authority in default. Up to now the Minister could do that in the case of a county borough, but could not do it in the case of a county district. In Clause 5 there is what is really the filling up of a gap. Local authorities can, under Clause 5, require a statutory undertaker to extend its mains if the local authority guarantee the same revenue to the undertaker as would 372 enable owners of premises to require the extension. There have been cases where, although the local authority has offered that guarantee, it has not been accepted, and the country dwellers have not got what they might easily have had. Lastly, there is the very important provision that, in future, expenses falling on the local rates for water supply and sewerage shall fall on the district as a whole. That has been optional for the rural district councils since 1929. The majority have exercised their option; but it would be right, we feel, that the remainder should come into line and put water and sewerage services on the same basis as housing, so far as the charge on rates is concerned. There is a Scottish adaptation Clause, with which, I feel, I need not deal.
I need only say, in conclusion, that this is no small task that is indicated by this Bill. In the most favourable conditions, it will take some years to complete, but it is a task well worth doing. It will give handsome dividends in terms of human welfare, and we can properly claim, I think, that the enactment of the Bill will be the start of a great forward step in the health and happiness of our countryside and of our country people.
§ Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)
As in 1934, the country is suffering from a serious drought, which has caused acute crisis and suffering in many areas, and, as in 1934, legislation has become very urgent. We have had harrowing accounts in the newspapers and terrible stories of dreadful water only being available in many areas, and I am quite sure the country will welcome the Measure which has just been introduced as an indication of action. It is not all we would desire, not all, perhaps, that might be done if we were living in normal times, but, speaking as a practical man, I think more could be done, and more could be started, in the more practicable areas where water is available at the least disadvantage. Therefore, we welcome this Bill, and I am quite sure the country will welcome it, and we appreciate that it has been introduced within a fortnight, almost 15 days, of our Debate on the main White Paper.
But it is-a very little Bill. To us, it appears to be inadequate and rather obscure, but it is certainly an advance on the Measure of 1934. It is intended, as the Minister has explained, to cover not 373 only water supply but sewerage, and therefore it has a double burden, compared with the 1934 Bill. As is admitted, the 1934 Measure only enabled some work to be done in the easiest and most convenient places. Now. we have to deal with the more remote and difficult areas, which will cost more and need more help, and therefore we feel that the Measure is quite inadequate.
It only provides £15,000,000 for both services. If we halve this—I suppose one costs as much as the other—it will be £7,500,000 for England and Wales for each of these services. It is known and admitted that there are 3,400 parishes that have no piped water supply at present, and the Minister told us a fortnight ago that there are more parishes that have no sewerage provision in England and Wales. Therefore, there is a great deal of work to be done, allowing for what was accomplished after 1934. In view of the magnitude of that work, we feel that the finance provided is inadequate. The hon. Lady the Member for Bodmin (Mrs. Wright) stated during the last Debate that Cornwall alone could swallow the 4ot, could do with the whole £15,000,000. That may have been special pleading for Cornwall, but there are many equally difficult areas in the North and far West of England, and our first feeling is that the money is inadequate.
I know the Minister has told us that £1,000,000 brings in many more millions from other sources. I think that, last time, he said that £1,000,000 in 1934 became £6,000,000, and he seemed very pleased with that. But we had not the difficulties facing us then that we have now, and I think it would be too much to expect local authorities to provide money in the same ratio as they did under the 1934 Bill. They then produced £5 to from the Treasury. As I work it out, that would mean that the £15,000,000 would grow to £90,000,000, £75,000,000 coming from the local authorities. Now £75,000,000 is a stupendous sum to expect from the local authorities, in view not only of their ordinary burdens and the general increase in the costs of carrying on their work but of the new burdens which they have to meet. Last week we carried the great Education Bill, which will call for a great deal of money from local authorities. Therefore, I am very dubious indeed whether the £15,000,000 is sufficient, 374 and I think the Minister should be prepared to press the Treasury for a larger proportion of aid for England and Wales.
I have another reason. I notice that Scotland is getting a much larger quota. Heaven forbid that I should grudge Scotland anything she is getting; I love Scotland too well to deprive her of anything. Scotland is to have £6,375,000. They have 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 people, but we have 40,000,000 people, and a varied territory of mountain land and arable land and all sorts of areas that are just as up and down as some of the Scottish counties. In Wales, of course, the mountains are nearly equal to those of Scotland, which creates difficulties about taking supplies to certain places. If the proportion for Scotland, quite rightly, is £6,375,000, England and Wales should have ten times as much for having ten times more people, and that would be £60,000,000. I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will agree that it is a fair comparison. Under the 1934 Bill we get seven or eight times as much as Scotland, but this time we are having only two or three times as much. I congratulate Scotland, certainly, but I must plead further for England and Wales. I do not want anyone to think that the Secretary of State for Scotland—I know he is idealistic, but he is also a practical man and a good business man—is a better horse-dealer than the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Health.
I am rather afraid that authorities in England have been so handicapped by having an inadequate service from their Advisory Committees. Frankly, I do not think too much of Advisory Committees. I would rather have responsible authorities with power to act, not merely to advise, for Advisory Committees seem to be chiefly engaged in gathering information, and have difficulty in getting even that. If we had Regional Boards governed by a National Board, and all with power to act, we should see, I think, a better proposition than we have at present in relation to the Treasury; but no doubt that will be further discussed by other speakers.
I would like to ask the Minister to give us an idea when the work will be started. I see in the Bill—it is the only date I can find—that on 31st March something terminates, but it does not 375 say that something else will begin. I suppose that if the Minister gets his Bill, he can start operations.
§ Mr. Walkden
Where possible the Minister will start when he is able to do so. Are we to have reports on how the Minister is getting on with the spending of this money and this work? The Minister says it will take many years. We would like to know about the progress he is making. Had we a responsible authority, like a Board, it would issue a report upon what is taking place. I would like to know—the Minister of Agriculture is not here now, but perhaps this could be put to him—what he is really going to do about those areas which may be described as impracticable, from the point of view of the Minister of Health, for a piped water supply—little hamlets where there are few houses or only farm houses. Will he supply a Ministry of Health water wagon to take good water regularly to these places? I mean a good water wagon, not an ordinary old farm water-cart, such as was used in the past and was often very dirty and unsuitable, but something on a good motor chassis—and there will be plenty available after the war—with a great glass body like the tanks used for the transport of milk on the highways. If we could have that sort of vehicle running swiftly round with water, I do not think there is anywhere which could not have an almost daily service. I would discourage the old water-cart system, which has to be operated in many rural areas, as most unsatisfactory. All sorts of bad bargains have to be made with the man who has the cart. He makes the people pay for the water when they bring their buckets. I know many areas in the Eastern counties of England, where the drought is worse, where things are like that, and that sort of thing should be brought to an end.
I want to deal with what I think is rather a point of obscurity in the Bill. The Minister has told us how he is going to dispense the money and why we cannot have a fixed rate of grant—that everything must be taken into consideration. Are his grants going to private companies? If not, how on earth will he get his water where he wants it, if private concerns are 376 at present providing the water and if the only source is in their hands? They are not all upstanding water companies, like Bristol or Newcastle, or Portsmouth; they are little, irregular concerns, but they have got the water. Are they to have any of this money, and, if so, what arrangement is the Minister prepared to make for the financial sterilisation of the grants? If the Minister finds it desirable, as he must, to put these concerns under the aegis of a better public authority, clearing out all these little irregular people who now have the supply in their hands, will they be paid twice over when compensated? We agree with compensation in a fair and proper measure, but not twice over. If public money has been given to an undertaking that doubles its value, we do not want the Minister to have to pay double value when the concern is taken over into a larger outfit. There should be a sterilisation Clause in the Bill as to the Treasury grants.
I may be told that these private concerns will not make any difference, because they will not make a profit, but there are great developments taking place, and the tiny rural place to-day may be a flourishing centre in future. We are going to have a great development of agriculture. All parties agree on that; we all want it, and we all stand for it, both in town and country. Already the dispersal of industry is going on and many undertakings are going out into the country. In fact, one never knows where new industry will go, thanks to the availability of electricity. Then cheap cars will be coming again, in abundance and superabundance, and that will mean, as the Minister of Transport well knows, improved highways and improved bus services. All these things will mean that many thousands more people will go into the country for residence, for work and also for holidays. The movement for holidays with pay is growing and will carry more people into the country. All these things will make a great change, and, in a few years, one of these little concerns may have got a very nice property, built up, to some extent, with public money.
I think we shall see a rural revolution. The people of the country, through education, have got to know the value of living in the country and the necessity of more people living on the land. That is going to have its fruition in the days that are ahead. A good deal of the future 377 increment will accrue to some of these water services and they may become very profitable, and I ask the Minister to provide against patching up these private companies with public money and eventually compelling the community to pay for their reduction. That is a very important point which should be watched as time goes on.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that the present system is archaic—he told us that 15 days ago—but he does not indicate when he is going to reduce the multiplicity of these local affairs. There is no action on that account at all. It is just a question of another pipe and spreading it a little further. That seems to be all that he has in mind. That is all very easy, but it is not what is needed. Look at the numbers of these people. There are 780 local authorities, 48 joint boards, and 173 companies with statutory powers, but I am informed that there are over 1,000 private proprietors operating under no special Act. These want dealing with. There are 2,000 bodies altogether, on my reckoning. They are uneconomic and cannot do the work as well as larger bodies. Administrativey and technically, they are very faulty and are competing with one another. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what the Minister contemplates doing to speed up amalgamation,. merging, consolidation and unification of these wasteful private undertakings. The Minister is merging 1,600 catchment boards and drainage areas into 29 River Boards—a fair example of what he ought to do with these other bodies. I hope that he has that well in mind and that we shall be asked to give him full powers to carry it out. We hope that the Minister will drive ahead with the drafting of his greater Bill. We want to see that as soon as possible, for the fulfilment of a more ample and comprehensive national policy to improve the health of our people.
I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the splendid speech he made last night, showing his determination to go forward with his general health scheme—of which this is really only a part—and showing that he is not going to be brow-beaten or bullied by vested interests or people who ought to know better than to say the things they 378 are saying. Many beneficial results will accrue even from what the Minister has in mind now. We shall see, I hope, no more women in villages carrying water in big, heavy buckets. I have seen a woman with a baby tucked under one arm and a bucket in the other hand, labouring along from the water level, up the hill, in order to get to her cottage. It was a pitiful sight. All that sort of thing ought to be brought to an end.
We hope to see the development of our villages through the assistance given in respect of water supply, and electricity supply and the development of our agriculture. We hope to see a revival—a splendid and glorious revival—of the active' life of our own people in our own beautiful countryside. We want to see more and more people living on the land and our country transformed from its very heart right through every county. I hope that the Minister will keep up his drive to assist in that direction and adopt the suggestions that I have made, which, I am sure, will assist him in what he is doing and proposes to do in the Bill.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
I wish to say only a few words on the Bill. The hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) referred to it as a very little Bill. I do not think that we should judge of its quality by its size. But I am sure the hon. Member is right when he says that this Bill will be a real encouragement to those local authorities which need encouragement. As far as I am aware, in my division, they do not need encouragement in the form contemplated in this Bill so much as some help in overcoming the administrative problems which arise with regard to the provision of water supply. It was only a short time after my election to this House that my attention was drawn to a village, where water had to be delivered three times a week and put into dustbins, and from that water in the dustbins, the householders draw their supply. That has been going on for some little time, and I gather that the matter is being proceeded with as speedily as possible, but the inquiry into whether a supply can be tapped for the provision of this village is only being opened next week and when the supply can be laid on, no one knows. An even greater encouragement than the financial provisions of the Bill, would be to devise some means of accelerating the machinery 379 for securing the development of water supplies that are so urgently required.
I sympathise with the views of the hon. Member for South Bristol on the disproportionate amount of finance proposed to be given to Scotland. I believe that there is much more water in Scotland than in England. It may be that their problems are different, and I do not want to tread on difficult ground. It may be that there are forms of beverages there that require more extensive dilution than beverages in England. Be that as it may, I am not going to enter upon that problem. I only want to say that, if the amount forth-corning under this Bill is not sufficient to encourage local authorities in England to make the provision so urgently required, I hope that the Minister will not hesitate to come back to this House and introduce an amending Bill to increase that quantity.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
May I, first, congratulate the Minister on the manner in which he has introduced his first Bill? It reminded me of other occasions when I have seen him, with that same tactful, pleasant manner of presentation, doing his best with a thoroughly bad brief. I think this is a bad Bill, especially in view of the statements made by the Minister in his speech on 3rd May on the White Paper. He showed where the present system was unsatisfactory, wasteful, chaotic and expensive and, having said all that, he then laid down a principle, and I would like to know how he applies the Bill to that principle. Principles that are laid down nowadays by political parties seem, on occasion, to be thrown to the winds merely in order to gain some particular advantage, and on that I shall have a little more to say later on. This was how the Minister described his principle:I would rather describe our objective and our proposed methods. Our object must be now to secure that all reasonable needs for water shall be met. Those needs are not met to-day, and they will increase. We want a system which will enable us to meet them without avoidable waste of water, labour, money or materials."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1944; Vol. 399, c. 1341.]My hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman in an intervention earlier whether he proposed, in this Bill, to continue the old and bad system which had been denounced in that 380 White Paper and by the Minister in his speech. The Minister's reply, as I understood it, was quite contrary to the statement in the White Paper—"Of course I do not." But his recommendation of this Bill is that it not only adds a little more money, but continues the system which was established by the Bill of 1934. Therefore, the correct answer to the hon. Member for Elland, I should have thought, was, "I am continuing the same old system, in the same old way, with the same old time-lags, with the same waste, and with the same expenditure."
Now let us consider where we are. Health is a national matter. It used to be regarded as a parochial matter, but now we are accustomed to deal with it nationally, and rightly so. One of the most important elements of good health is an abundant supply of pure water. If that supply is available throughout the country, so far as the sources of water are concerned, then an endeavour should be made to bring the water to the houses of the people with the least possible waste of money and of effort. What is being proposed here? Again to put the burden upon the local authorities. And that is regarded as something entirely fresh, as moving ahead, and doing something from a national point of view. Pretty nearly every Measure suggested from the Front Bench opposite, either in a White Paper or in a Bill, is a Measure to increase the burden on the already overburdened ratepayers through the local authorities. It has happened with regard to education; now it is happening with regard to this Measure. The Government know perfectly well that, as the burdens are so unequal, certain local authorities will be quite incapable of carrying out what is required, in order to give that standard to which they pay lip service from that Bench. They say, "We want a national health scheme; we ought to have pure water in every house." They have listened to stories similar to those of the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) about women carrying pails of water in one arm and babies in the other and they say that that ought to end, and that we really ought to have proper equality. But how do they propose to do it? They propose to let the local authority initiate the whole thing. But while some local authorities are in an excellent position to do so, there are other local authorities who are quite incapable.
381 I do not think that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench have ever appreciated what is happening with regard to the rates. Take this instance. Only a few weeks ago the hon. Member for Elland drew attention to this matter and we are all duly grateful to him for doing so. He has taken a very prominent part in bringing to the attention of the House the need for pure water, and has gone out of his way to ask for a national scheme. Despite the taunts of some of his colleagues, he opposed Private Bills, in order to call attention to the complete waste under the present system. One of these Bills was that of Anglesey, and I would like to know how the Minister proposes to apply this new Measure, when he gets it on the Statute Book, to conditions of that kind. Anglesey, with a 1d. rate, has, I think, now somewhere about £675—at any rate it is under £700—a year. Anglesey has always been short of good water, and has always had difficulty in getting it. It is a good agricultural county with only one large town in it—Holyhead. It has to bring before this House its own private Measure, to which the House has now given a Second Reading. The estimated cost of those works in Anglesey, for the provision of water alone, is £500,000, and that without making any provision for sewerage. How are we to link up that Measure, supposing it goes through and becomes part of the law applying to Anglesey, and to Anglesey alone, with this Bill? Are the Government going to scrap the expense already incurred with regard to smaller areas? What is the burden already upon these little villages which will now start on this scheme?
The burden in my own county is somewhat similar to that of Anglesey—a 1d. rate amounting to about £630 a year. I have now come face to face with the new burden which the Education Bill is putting on—another £500,000. The road rate is 9s. 8d. in the £, while that for Middlesex is 9d. in the £.Yet it is said: "The rural areas of Montgomeryshire cannot supply water to the districts, so we will give you a grant." What is the burden that will fall upon the rural districts? If the Act of 1934, which the Government keep on citing, is to be taken as sound, £1,000,000 was voted by this House through the Ministry for the assistance of the poor areas. It was said with pride, "Look, they have taken up that 382 £1,000,000. It has been a wonderful encouragement to them, and those little poor rural districts have spent £6,000,000." If that figure is a measure of what is expected to happen in the future, then there will be expended, under this Bill, a sum of about £105,000,000. For every pound that we get from the Treasury, for the assistance of the poor county of Montgomeryshire, we shall have to spend £6 out of our already depleted rates. The Ministry of Health are betting on pretty good odds—for every pound they get back £7 and they say, "Look at us. What a wonderful thing we have done in putting the burden upon the poor area." And they will taunt those who are not able to carry out that work properly.
If water is wanted anywhere in sufficient and proper quantities, it is wanted more in the rural areas than anywhere else, and especially on the dairy farms. There you want much more water for cattle, and you also want much cleaner byres. To-morrow, I understand, we are to discuss the question of the purity of milk. I wonder whether the people of this country have any conception of the kind of buildings where milk is being produced to-day? We have all been urging for some time a greater consumption of milk, but if people only saw the condition of the buildings where that milk is produced I think the consumption would go down instead of up. Then, again, for the cleansing of all the apparatus more and more water is required. We are in favour of better and adequate supplies of water, in the most economical way. In this Bill are embodied the principles of the White Paper on National Water Policy. It stated:The object of policy must be to make the best and most economical use of the country's water resources.How do the Government intend to do that if they are to wait for every little authority to begin its own scheme? The Minister said that he did not know who he would allocate the £15,000,000.
§ Mr. Davies
Then what else did the right hon. and learned Gentleman say? The Minister has no policy. If he has any system by which he intends to allocate this money, then I ask him to let us know.
§ Mr. Willink
I gave no indication whatever that allocation of the money would be on the basis of "first come, first served." I said it would be allocated on the basis of the financial resources of the applicant, when the time came to put his work in hand, taking into account five or six factors which, for greater accuracy, had better be read as recorded.
§ Mr. Davies
That is exactly what I said. I suggested "first come, first served," because the Minister has no policy whatever. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the first consideration will be the poverty of the applicant. Supposing an applicant is so poor that he asks for 100 per cent. grant and the next applicant does the same. What will happen with regard to distribution? It will be "first come, first served." It will be, "Stand in the water queue and see where you are with regard to the £15,000,000." The time has really come when we should be asked to implement the principles which the Government seem to be laying down so easily in their White Papers. The White Paper says, after the words I have just quoted:For this, allocation of resources must conform with a planned water economy.…How can there be planning when the Government does not know who is coming forward? It goes on:… and be based on informed estimates of needs.You cannot know what the needs of anyone will be until you know the needs of all. It says:In short, a planned water economy means the building up of a body of information as a background against which sensible and speedy decisions can be given as to the best way to meet particular needs and fit them to long-term policy rather than an attempt to frame a master plan to which all decisions must conform, as to a Procrustean bed.Where does this fit in. How delighted must have been the civil servant to have written the words, "a Procrustean bed." The Paper goes on:Accordingly, the first object of the Government's proposals is to ensure that there are efficient means of collecting and using comprehensive information relating to water resources and to demands for water.…Finally, it says:Ultimate responsibility for the efficiency and vigour of the administration of the country's water supplies must rest with democratic bodies—at the centre, with a Minister responsible to Parliament; at the circumference, with local authorities responsible to their electorates.384 It is the same old system, with the same old meaning, with a little additional power taken by the Ministry. It is suggested that a new Department, called the Water Department, has been set up in the Ministry of Health. Ever since I have known the Ministry of Health, they have had officers dealing with water. If you wanted to make an inquiry about water, you were referred to the particular civil servant who was responsible for dealing with it. I went across to the Ministry to make inquiries about water long before the Minister became a Member of this House, or even thought of becoming a candidate for this House.
What is to happen? My own county is in a particular difficulty. There are six little boroughs, and a rd. rate for the biggest amounts to £100. The county has a huge perimeter and brings in two or three little hamlets. There are five other boroughs. In the North of the county is one of the biggest reservoirs in Great Britain. Indeed, it is so big that it has been marked on every map, since it has been created, as a lake. That water supply was created by this House, acting in its national capacity by giving authority to the Liverpool Corporation to dam a valley and carry water to the reservoir. Is that to be part of a national system in future, or is it to be treated as something separate? If I want water for the little hamlets which lie adjacent to the 80 miles of underground piping that carry the water from Liverpool, could I tap that supply? Is that contemplated? Not a bit of it. Each little village will go to its rural district council, which will tap a spring and lay on water to houses within a reasonable distance of that spring. This is done in the name of national health; not only that, it is done in the name of first things first. That is not the way to treat this House as it should be treated.
Now I come to another matter which was touched upon by the hon. Member for South Bristol, and I have to go into more detail about this because I want to draw the attention of the House to the difference between the treatment meted out to Scotland and that meted out to Wales. It is proposed, under this Bill, to give £15,000,000 to assist the councils of England and Wales and £6,375,000 to assist Scotland. These grants compare with £1,000,000 given to England and Wales in 1924, and £137,000 given to 385 Scotland at that time. Under this Bill, England and Wales will have 15 times the amount awarded by the 1934 Act, and Scotland will have 46 times the amount awarded under that Act. I am not criticising Scotland; I merely envy them and wonder how they do it. Perhaps it is because they have what Welsh Members have been asking for for some time—their own Secretary of State. If I may put it in another way, the Scottish grant, in 1934, was 13.75 per cent. of that of England and Wales, and the present proposal gives them 42.5 per cent. There is nothing to show how much the share of Wales was under the 1934 grant.
I would like to call attention to the ratio of the rural and urban populations in all three countries. In England 81 per cent. of the people are in urban areas and, in rural areas, 19 per cent. In Scotland there are 80 per cent, in urban areas and 20 per cent. in rural. In Wales there are 70 per cent. in urban and 3o per cent. in rural areas. The total population of Scotland, according to the 1931 figures—the 1941 figures are not available—was 4,840,000 and of Wales 2,590,000. The number of people living in rural areas in Scotland came to 963,000, in Wales 789,600—not much difference although the population of Scotland is nearly twice that of Wales. The population of Glasgow alone is more than all my four county boroughs put together. Although the population of Scotland is nearly double that of Wales, the rural population of Wales is nearly as much as that of Scotland. Scotland gets £6,375,000. On the basis of rural population the grant to England and Wales ought to be eight times the amount allotted to Scotland.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made a bad bargain. The Secretary of State for Scotland has beaten him completely. He is new at the game, and the old hand wins. The amount proposed to be allocated to England and Wales is only 2½ times that given to Scotland. Putting it another way, the proposed grant to Scotland is equal to more than £6 10s. 0d. per head of the rural population, while in England and Wales it is less than £2 a head. Dividing up the £15,000,000 for England and Wales Pro rata, we in Wales should have had over £5,000,000, whereas the amount is less than £1,500,000. I call particular attention to that because in Wales we have suffered through the very poverty of the 386 local authorities and it has had a disastrous effect on the health of our people. In Carnarvonshire there are wide areas which suffered intensely from lack of water. They had thoroughly bad houses, which I condemned as some of the worst things I had ever seen. One of their difficulties was lack of water, and it is the area which shows the worst account with regard to tuberculosis throughout the district of Anglesey and Carnarvon. We are to get £1,500,000 at the most, while there is nearly £6,500,000 for Scotland, maybe not enough—I wish they could have more—but why should this treatment be meted out to us. I hope the Government will withdraw the Bill anal let it be considered in the light of the new survey that they are about to undertake. Let them go in for a real national one instead of leading the public to believe that they are doing something national, while doing it in this parochial way, and putting the burden on the parish and, if the parish cannot do it, turning round and blaming them, and finding the expense of curing diseases which ought never to have existed, and saying they are doing it in the interest of the nation, as a national effort.
If my figures are right, taking them on the proportions of 1934, something like £105,000,000 will be expended on improving water conditions in England arid Wales and about £42,000,000 in Scotland. Of course, with the advent of pure water to the houses, health should be better arid there will be more amenities to help the women in running the house. But one of the things that will happen—I have not heard a word about it from hon. Members above the Gangway—is that the value of land and houses will go up. Property owners will benefit first and permanently. I regard the Secretary of State for Scotland as one of the most sincere men who ever entered this House and I am astonished at some of the things to which he is now lending his name. I hope property owners will show him some gratitude. They may erect a memorial to him. It is sad to think of it when I remember that one of the best sellers of 30 years ago was a book called "Our Noble Families." I am not surprised that the Bill is being supported by the Minister of Health or the Minister of Agriculture or even the hon. Lady. Their principles are quite clear. They would, of course, say, "By all means increase 387 the wealth of the landowners by the taxation of the people," but it surprises me to find the other two names on the back of the Bill.
§ Mr. Willink
There is evidently a good deal of interest in this Bill and I would therefore at this stage propose the Motion necessary to extend the time at our disposal by an hour.
Ordered:That the proceedings on Government Business be exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), for One hour after the hour appointed for the interruption of Business."—[Mr. Willink.]Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time"
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
It is not for me to attempt to answer the criticism of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) about the allocation of the grant as between Scotland and England and Wales. I do not know whether his figures are right or wrong, but it seems to me very likely that the Secretary of State for Scotland succeeded in establishing with the Government that the needs of Scotland were such that that sum was required. The main criticism I would make of this Bill is that he has not put those needs high enough. I should say that it will require much more than £6,250,000 to meet the requirements in Scotland. If it is any comfort to my hon. and learned Friend, I should be glad to join him in seeking from the Treasury a much bigger grant, so that both Wales and Scotland may have more.
We are dealing here with one of the most important, perhaps the most important, of all public services. Other services, like railways, gas or scavenging, are, of course, necessary for the amenities of the community, but we could do without them temporarily, as we have done in the past, without any disastrous results. But the case of water is very different. It is a service vital to the very life of the community, a service which must be continuous and of the highest reliable quality. With such a service we can deal only with the utmost seriousness. The odd thing is that, important as this service is, the great mass of people in the towns accept it automatically as a gift from Heaven. They take it for 388 granted, little realising the intricate organisation which is behind it or the danger that lies in a lack of proper care of the future of water supplies. Still less do they know or appreciate the circumstances of their fellows in the countryside, and the pitiful plight of hundreds of thousands of working women having to rear families in the most dreadful conditions, with neither sinks, baths, nor internal W.Cs., or anything to make their lives easy. The Government have done a great thing, even if it is not enough, in facing that situation and in producing this considerable measure of reform. But I hope that, in the warmth of our welcome we shall remember that we are a democratic assembly representing different kinds of people. Before giving the Bill a Second Reading we must convince ourselves, first, that it is adequate for the purposes it has in view, and, second, that the machinery of the Bill is what is required. We must be convinced, generally speaking, that the Bill will provide for the countryside a better life, more pleasant amenities, and the efficient industry on which its people depends. I have grave doubts about both the administration proposed and the adequacy of this Bill, but particularly about administration.
The White Paper said that the duty of the Minister would be to consider proposals submitted to him by the various water authorities. Are we to understand that the Minister is to take no initiative himself, but that all initiative must come from the water undertakings? I hope that that is not so. I have a little ground for that hope, because on the next page of the White Paper it is stated that the Central Advisory Water Committee is not merely to advise on questions referred to it by the Government, but will be able to make representations on its own initiative. These two things are contradictory, and I shall be grateful for an explanation. It cannot be consistent to say that all initiative must come from the water authorities and, at the same time, that the Advisory Committee must act on its own initiative.
I come to another point of administration, that of compulsory amalgamation. I am entirely with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery and others, who have said that in starting new water undertakings there must be a certain number of amalgamations and that the thing must be done in a big 389 way. But I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has somewhat different circumstances to deal with, will not be too highhanded with his dictatorial powers in this matter. My impression from reading the section of the Report dealing with Scotland is that my right hon. Friend is looking forward with gusto to using the big stick. What are the principles upon which the Government will exercise the compulsory amalgamating powers? I read in the White Paper that any changes that are made must be justified on the grounds of improving technical efficiency or of a marked reduction of costs. There is a lot to be said for that as a theory. The White Paper goes on to say that the laying of trunk mains is a very costly affairs, and that for this reason it will be sound practice to meet the needs of an area from local sources so far as practicable.
That is another good theory, and I will apply it to the conditions I know in Scotland. I fancy that the same situation might arise in many places in England. In the county of Fife we have over 20 small burghs. There are in Scotland 170 burghs, nearly all of which have their own independent water supplies. They are efficient and cheap and are thought in most cases to be thoroughly adequate. Alongside these 20 small burghs in Fife there is the Fife County Council, with a great and admirable water scheme of its own which, when it is put into effect, may supply enough water for the whole of the county. But the compulsory adoption of that county scheme by the various small burghs will undoubtedly add to the cost of water to them. If they are forced to go into the scheme their rates for water will be higher. I hope that my right hon. Friend will exercise great care and caution before pressing these small authorities into larger schemes. Without most careful consideration of all the factors—including the legitimate pride of the small burghs in their own achievements in the past and their rightful fear that if any more of their functions are taken away they will have very little to do—my right hon. Friend will find himself in a great deal of trouble.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the authority of the burghs will be taken away by the county councils? I 390 understood the Minister to say that it would be exactly the reverse.
It is not for me to give the explanation, but for the right hon. Gentleman to allay what he knows are the very prevalent fears of many small burghs, who represent the great mass of the people in the county of Fife and elsewhere. I ask only that great care be taken.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
Surely the main test must be whether the small burghs can supply the whole of their citizens with a proper supply of water.
Their claim is that they are doing so but that view is contested: some say they will not be able to do so in the future. I do not pretend to be able to judge the issue. I am asking only that great care should be taken, because this is a matter of very considerable controversy in my part of the country.
The next thing I want to ask is, What is to be the method of grant allocation in this matter? The Minister gave a sort of explanation at the beginning which one understood, but it did strike me that certain authorities, who have been progressive in the past and who have come to this House for powers for great schemes—some of them the biggest in the country—imposing on their ratepayers very great burdens, will be penalised. If we can be assured on that point I shall be very grateful. I have some qualms, because I believe the Minister told us that it is going to be a matter of the financial ability of the authority concerned. That is not enough. Surely the progressive authorities must be encouraged to progress further in that way.
As to the amount of the grant, I do not know how the figures were arrived at in relation to Scotland, where the survey is only half done. In England still less of the survey is completed, and I would ask the Minister of Health how he arrives at the figure of £15,000,000. I rather got the impression that he looked for a precedent to the years between the wars, but I cannot think that that was a scientific way of doing it. Clause 3 of the B:11 lays down the duty of a local authority to piped supplies of water to all villages and hamlets, but not apparently to individual houses, which was a point raised by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) during the last Debate. He 391 pointed out quite rightly, that in parts of Scotland—and perhaps the same is true of parts of Wales—the scheme will leave out thousands of small farms, cottages and isolated homes. I was a little surprised to hear the Secretary of State speak so lightly about the odd man here and there who might be left out; it will not be a case of one odd man here and there but of a lot, perhaps tens of thousands of such cases. I hope we are not going to have the reckless propaganda in this matter that we had in connection with the Hydro-Electric Act, which, we were told, would mean that electricity would flow into every cottage and home in the Highlands. It is nonsense.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
Who said that?
I spoke of the reckless propaganda that has been carried on by wireless, in the Press and elsewhere. Neither that Measure nor this Bill will bring electricity or water to all the homes in Scotland, nor do anything comparable with that.
My last point concerns agriculture, not only from the point of view of grants but from that of objectives. It is not enough to supply water to the villages and hamlets. These places live upon the major industry, agriculture, and I see no evidence that that great industry will be served in this Bill. Mention has been made of the need for water in dairies, where milk is produced in what is really a well of water, as is the case with a modern dairy. But there is much more to consider. The modern application of ley farming, involving taking the plough round the farm, necessitates taking the water there as well so that livestock may be properly served. Agriculture cannot progress or be efficient without immensely increased supplies of water.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is now going too far into the agricultural question, which was debated in a separate Bill earlier in the week.
I was making a special reference to it, because the name of the Minister of Agriculture is on the back of the Bill, and I thought I might be in Order in considering the weakness of this Bill as it applies to farming. But let me 392 present another side of this rural problem. One of the most hopeful of all our new industries which is dependent as much as any other upon water, is horticulture. The growth of this industry in the last twenty years has been phenomenal. We have learned in that period that without a copious supply of water for irrigation purposes we cannot compete in horticulture with imported supplies. I cannot impress too much upon the House the importance of these industries and the effect which, properly managed, they will have upon the health of our people. I hope, therefore, that there will be some reply from the Ministry of Agriculture. I know that I speak for the great farming and horticultural industry in this matter, which looks to the Government for fair conditions.
§ Mr. Sloan (Ayrshire, South)
I think it would have been better for the Minister to collect opinions on this side of the House and to have imported some of them into the Bill, unless the Bill was in print before the White Paper was discussed. The Secretary of State said, during the discussion on the White Paper:A Bill, or Bills—I am not sure which—will be introduced very shortly; I hope, after consultations have taken place with the local authority organisations, and in the light of the discussions that have taken place to-day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1944; Vol. 399, c. 1411.]He said that presumably at a time when this Bill was beyond recall, and was in print. If such was the case I think that Ministers were really taking liberties with the House in asking them to participate in the Debate, if no cognisance whatever was to be taken of any suggestions that were made. That reduces to a complete farce this policy of preceding a Bill with a White Paper, and if the Government persist in such an attitude a considerable degree of confusion will be caused in the minds of hon. Members as to whether a Debate on a White Paper is of any use at all.
The White Paper was received, if not with enthusiasm, at least with a fair amount of satisfaction, not because of what it contained, but because Ministers looked so reasonable—I might almost say so simple--that we expected they might be listening. It now transpires that that was merely a pose. The Bill is, of course, completely and totally inadequate. It will never, in its present structure, meet the crying needs, and will leave the posi- 393 tion substantially the same. It makes no attempt at organising or reorganising our water supplies. It leaves them in the present unsatisfactory position. Those who have adequate supplies and sufficient rateable valuation will continue to be well supplied with water, but those who have always been starved for water will, I am afraid, receive very little benefit from the Bill. Surely something more drastic, something more bold and constructive, and something more audacious might have been presented to this House.
The only real change that is contemplated so far as I can see is the increase in the money, in some instances, that is to be granted or expended by the Treasury. It is increased from £1,000,000 in 1934 to £21,000,000 in 1945, or whenever we begin to expend this money. As a good Scotsman I am not inclined to refuse to take part in this scheme, hut on consideration I am definitely of the opinion that it is, to use an unhappy phrase, "Too late, and too little." In 1934 £6,250,000 would have been a fair amount to expend in Scotland, but despite all the assurances that we have prevented inflation that sum today will go a far less distance than in 1934. Pipes, for instance, that were laid for £250 per mile are to-day costing in the region of £400. I am afraid that even after the war it will be impossible to bring the cost below 50 per cent. more than the 1934 level. That will reduce the value of our £6,000,000 in Scotland to the region of £4,000,000.
This scheme not only deals with water, it also includes sewerage. If we have the one we must have the other. We have had no indication whatever, and I hope that whoever is to reply will be able to give us some indication, of the division between water and sewerage. Competent engineers will inform us that it is more costly to provide drainage schemes, with their complementary purification works, than it is to provide water. But suppose they are equal in cost, that will reduce the amount to be spent on water in Scotland to some £2,000,000, at 1934 prices, and that is assuming that prices will rapidly decline after the war. That is by no means certain, because I think labour costs will remain. People who have been engaged in this type of work were always far too lowly paid, and labour costs, I presume, will not be easily 394 scaled down. That will have its reflection where raw materials are required, so that the £6,250,000 which is to be granted to Scotland, even although my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) was against it, will not in the main serve anything like the needs of Scotland in regard to water.
This little Bill is just tinkering with the matter. It is just a footling little thing touching the fringe of a tremendous problem. This single Clause Bill that is being handed out to Scotland—[Interruption]—my hon. Friend corrects me, it is a Clause and a half; but even with a Clause and a half the amount of benefit which the Bill will bestow upon us is nothing like what we were expecting. To understand how little will be achieved I had a look at the figures of the Afton scheme in my own county. It might interest the House to know that I found that its cost was something round £450,000. That is for one water scheme, to supply a population of roughly some 70,000. If you take a cut of £450,000 at your £6,000,000 with one little scheme for an area with 70,000 population, you can readily understand that in areas where there is such a low valuation as some of those mentioned to-day it is inconceivable that this Bill will give them an adequate water supply. What I am concerned about is what pressure the Secretary of State will be able to bring to bear, outside, of course, of the forcing of grants on reluctant county councils. In the Debate on the White Paper he said:First of all what we propose is that there shall be powers vested in the Health Ministers to promote provision for adequate water supplies in Scotland and in England. It is to be their duty. They will be responsible to Parliament. There is, therefore, democratic control, criticism and direction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1944; Vol. 399, c. 1410.]It sounds like a quotation from a Labour Party pamphlet. But what does it all mean?
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
Does my hon. Friend's remark about Labour Party pamphlets suggest that he is seriously toying with the idea of changing his party?
§ Mr. Sloan
There is so little cleavage between them these days that I do not know which side I am on. I wonder whether the Government will face up to the idea of providing water for these rural 395 areas, or whether they are just putting us off. Is it sufficient to say to many of the areas in Scotland—and we have some just as badly situated as any in Wales—that here are certain grants that they can claim? Suppose they do not claim those grants. This presupposes that, before any local authority can make a claim, they must be prepared, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said, to spend a considerable part of their own funds. How can they do it, even with the promise of these grants? There has been a demand for some idea to be given of how the grants will be allocated. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to tell us on what basis they will be allocated in Scotland; whether it will be on a basis of actual need, and whether it will he possible for areas to secure up to ma per cent. grant; and whether he will have to keep one eye on the fund and the other on the necessity of the areas concerned? I do not think that the fund will be anything like adequate. I hope that the Government are not rigid about this proposal, and that they have not said the last word. I hope that, having collected the opinions on both sides of the House, they will be able, before this Debate is over, to give us some hope that, on the Committee stage, they will increase the amount, and, at the same time, obtain more control over water undertakings. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) was very anxious that no more of the powers of these undertakings should be taken away.
§ Mr. Sloan
Of course, they provide water of a kind; but the provision of water cannot be adequately done except on a large scale, with the necessary technical staff of chemists, engineers and all the other people who are required. I interrupted the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he referred to what he 396 termed the fact that only 2,000,000 out of 40,000,000 people in the country had no piped water supply and indicated that the extra demand would not be great. What an amazing statement for the Minister of Health to make. What a misconception of the whole question of water supply. It rather shocked me to hear him say that, and I concluded that he certainly was not the proper person to be handling a Bill dealing with rural water supplies. I have in my hand figures showing the water required for dairy farms. They are obtained from the Hannah Research Institute of Ayr. That is an organisation whose figures can be absolutely relied upon. These figures throw into perspective the statement made by the Minister of Health. Here are the figures for the week ending i6th December, 1942. Ten cows used 642 gallons. For washing the byre of 38 cows, the amount required was 1,042 gallons. For cooling the milk, it was 9,332 gallons. It takes up to 17 gallons to cool one gallon of milk to 54 degrees. What is the use of the Minister talking about 2,000,000 of population when people in rural areas have to deal with questions of this kind? It is not a question of supplying drinks of water to people, but of supplying water to meet the needs of an agricultural community. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture; he knows a great deal more about agriculture than I do. He must know that the rural areas do not think in terms of getting water to houses; the difficulty is in getting the supply to the farms. If you get it to the farm, the house will be able to get a little. How is the situation to be improved under this Bill? We supply water to farms, through the meter, at 1s. per thousand gallons. That means that we deliver water to the farms at 3d. per ton.
That is what we were visualising when we were thinking of rural water supplies. I know the Secretary of State for Scotland has done his very best under the difficult circumstances, and probably has scored over his opponents in securing a larger share of the grant, but that does not meet the case. A grant-in-aid does not meet the problem of supplying these rural areas with water. One anticipated a bold claim, with a suggestion of amalgamation with larger undertakings. There is nothing so stupid that I can see as the situation where you have pipes running along the road 397 for over a score of miles and carrying unfiltered water. These pipes are sacrosanct as regards tapping, and if you did tap them you would only secure unfiltered water. Is it an impossible thing to look at the larger scheme and come to a definite conclusion that this question of water must be placed on an entirely different basis?
Although Ayrshire has probably some of the finest catchment areas in the world, there are still people living in Ayrshire who can get water no more easily than you can in the Sahara Desert. This Bill cannot do anything to meet that situation. We are to be given a few more pounds from the Treasury if local authorities are prepared to spend more. I ask the Secretary of State to view this matter anew in the light of statements made all over the country, and try to see, as far as Scotland is concerned, at any rate, if some larger scheme cannot be evolved, with amalgamation of undertakings, so that we shall be able to give the people an adequate water supply.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
I am afraid there are many hon. Members for English and Welsh constituencies who will be thinking that Scotland has already obtained its unequal share of words across the Floor of this House, as well as a big proportion of the grant-in-aid which this Bill provides. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) seemed to be very bitter about that, if he will allow me to say so.
§ Mr. Davies
Oh no, I certainly did not intend that. I was only trying to point out how badly off we were in comparison with Scotland. I did not want Scotland to have less than it is getting. I should like it to have more, but I want to see England brought up to the same level.
§ Major McCallum
I apologise to my hon. and learned Friend, but I would only say to him that this matter of the money to be provided on the Water Bill is only one direction in which Scotland has had a fairer deal. I remember that, in matters of transport, in matters of industry and in matters of fishing fleets, Scotland has had a very raw deal in comparison with the rest of the country. It is only natural that we should feel that, this time, we have been getting a slightly better deal. After the Debate on the White Paper, I took the opportunity of consulting some of 398 my own local authorities and of getting their views on that Paper and on this Bill, and, I must say, in spite of what other hon. Members have said, that in my division the local authorities welcome this Bill most heartily. I speak for one of those divisions such as was mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery—a division with a low rateable value and an enormous area. I do not know how the Scottish allocation came about in relation to this Bill. I am unable to speak for Welsh rural areas, I can only speak for the Highlands and for those areas which these schemes would have to cover, areas in which long distances separate farms and hamlets. Probably because of this the expenditure, in the Highlands of Scotland, would be very much greater proportionally than in any other part of the country.
I want to deal with two points raised by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), on one of which I agree with him. I would like to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, if he is going to reply, whether he can give us some indication of the position of county councils in this matter. My own county council feel that, under the 1934 Bill, where there was a question of obtaining a grant-in-aid for any particular scheme, a grant would only be given if the county council put down an equal amount of money themselves; and they feel that, in a poor area, such as Argyllshire is, it is an unfair condition to impose on a local authority. It is to be hoped that, as indicated in the White Paper, all the special water areas—we have 24 in Argyllshire—will be absorbed into one wider county scheme. In bringing that about, I do not see, as I gathered the hon. Member for South Ayrshire indicated, the local authority demanding too per cent. grant for a scheme. What I do see is the county council finding out to what extent it can finance any particular scheme and then asking for a grant-in-aid, not necessarily, and probably in no case, demanding a 100 per cent. grant-in-aid. I rather gathered that when the hon. Member referred to a water scheme in his own division, and mentioned the cost of that water scheme and the total amount allocated to Scotland, he thought it indicated that there would not be enough to go round. I agree with other hon. Members that, if we could have had more, it would have been better, but I suggest that we have had fairly generous 399 treatment in this particular matter, and I know that local authorities are glad of the very great opportunities this Bill will give them to improve water supplies in rural areas.
I want to ask the Secretary of State one other question, about private water supplies. In Argyllshire, which is better situated in that respect than many other parts of the country, there are hundreds of private water supplies. Many farms, hamlets and estates have their own supplies, and therefore I take it that the Minister's intention is that the local authorities will eventually take over all these private supplies and gradually incorporate them into one, or, will he, provided they are run efficiently, leave them to run "on their own"? That being the case, is it expected that those people supplied by private supplies will be called upon to bear the county water rate which will inevitably have to be levied when this scheme goes forward? Some of my constituents feel that, when they have had the burden of providing the supply, they should not have to contribute to the county scheme. Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on that point. Speaking for the Highlands, or for my part of the Highlands, I can say that we welcome this Bill very much.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I am afraid that I shall have to join in the criticism by some of my hon. Friends as to the inadequacy of the Bill looked at in the background of the White Paper. We may have misled ourselves into expecting a lot from the recommendations of the White Paper and from the speeches of Ministers themselves on the White Paper. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) that the county authorities are nevertheless grateful that this step has been taken at all at this time. As Mr. Speaker has generously parcelled out the time so fairly among the English members and their Scottish neighbours and Welsh subsidiaries I will try to be as brief as I can. It is rather odd that there are no Scottish backers on the Bill at all. It is incidental and unimportant but we are grateful to have an hon. Lady for a Scottish constituency in an English Ministry, and she will be equally gratified that one of the main elements of diet prescribed by her some years ago for the 400 health of the masses—carrots and water—is being so generously provided in the Bill, and no doubt the Minister of Agriculture, whose name is on the Bill, will supply the carrots in due course. If we exclude the non-Scottish Clauses 2, 4, 5 and 6, and part of 3 from the Bill, Scottish Members have not much excuse to talk at length on it. Clause 3, what it left of it, is the important Clause in so far as it limits the possibilities under this Bill. The most dangerous words used are the familiar "reasonable cost." They may be necessary but they are not defined, so that, in fact, we do not know what we are to get from the Bill at all.
I would like to know from the Minister, while accepting his assurance that this is only a first step forward, whether he can give any indication as to the length of time in years the money in this Bill is to cover. There is a reference to 20 years in one of the Clauses on local recurring charges. If grants are expected to be doled out of the fund up to 20 years' time, it does not look awfully promising that there will be any considerable additional supply of money coming within that time, but perhaps I am wrong in that view. As I have said, if this is only the first step forward, we are grateful at having that step taken now. A sum of a little over £6,250,000 may have seemed quite a lot of money in the days when £65,000 was allocated for the whole Islands and Highlands of Scotland just before the war, but £6,250,000 now is not an awful lot of money. Generous as this might appear to be if applied liberally to the most needy cases, the places that have no water supply at all and places with the poorest water supplies, yet over the whole of Scotland it is a paltry sum when one thinks in terms of modern costs and of what costs will be after the war.
In Inverness-shire alone, I was informed by the county clerk, whose council have made an estimate for the Outer and Inner Hebrides of the county and part of the landward coastal area, that, on the basis of their own thorough survey in 1938, over £300,000 was then required to bring supplies of piped water to those townships and small villages alone. That is a little less than half the cost or the amount of money that is required to-day; it is expected to be nearer £700,000 than £300,000. If you put the 401 requirements of Ross and Cromarty in the region of something like Inverness-shire the two counties may need £1,500,000, that will leave £4,750,000 and possibly less on the actual costs. When Argyllshire, the Orkneys and Shetlands, Sutherlandshire and all the rural districts of Scotland, and the burghs, make their claims the sum will appear even less adequate.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
Scottish Members are very good at getting the best bargain, but is the hon. Member asking for 100 per cent.?
§ Mr. MacMillan
The hon. Member has anticipated me. I was corning to the question of 100 per cent. I was dealing first with the total local sums on the very rough basis of the pre-war survey by the local authority. I am anxious about the question of compelling two authorities to wait till they can get together and make a joint scheme. Sometimes there is a case for that financially as well as technically; but I cannot conceive of the Islands being brought into any nation scheme. We are up against difficulties in that we are separated from Scotland physically and it must be clear that we must face the unavoidable multiplicity of small schemes. It is very costly but nevertheless it is necessary. To delay and compel, say, Ross-shire, Inverness and Argyll to come together on one scheme would be to reduce the immediate prospects; it would be wailing for the worst, slowest and poorest local authority, because they would encounter troubles and insist on concessions which would be less readily granted than the smaller concessions demanded by the wealthier authorities. We should not compel authorities in the Highlands to work together on a large scale with other counties, there is a county like Inverness-shire which has already prepared schemes going down to places where there are only a few houses. Where that has been done they should be given priority and encouraged if only for the useful contribution they have made towards solving their own water difficulties. I do not think that the Secretary of State should wait in cases of that kind for the prospect of a great national scheme being evolved, or postpone action until other counties catch up.
In the landward Highlands at the present time we are up against this situation. 402 The women who do all the daily work while the men are away at the fishing or on the land or on service on the seas and in the Army, have to walk miles daily, trudging with buckets to and from the wells to get water for washing and drinking purposes. If there were immediate danger of an epidemic action would have been taken long ago. When something like paratyphoid or typhoid breaks out, action is taken immediately; but if the danger is a long-term danger and inconvenience and has been going on for years, and the damage done by contaminated water is only seen through time in its effect on the health of the community, nothing is done for generations. We are also up against the difficulty not only of open and covered wells, but of surface pools which are contaminated by wind-blown rubbish of all kinds, by birds, and by the coming and going of cattle and of dogs and other animals. We cannot expect that water to be suitable for human consumption, and yet people are compelled to use and to drink it because there is no supply of piped water to the houses. In fact, in some cases roof water is regarded as the purest supply. It is caught in traps which can only be cleaned from time to time and it comes down water runs which are probably often contaminated with all sorts of matter.
I am not going to be satisfied with the suggestion that everything has been done that can be done under this Bill when water is brought through a pipe convenient for linking up with houses already existing or houses which are going to be built with the assistance of public funds. I do not think the job has been done until there is a communal supply through the villages which is also connected up to all the individual existing houses and provision is made for connecting it to the new houses to be built after the war. I hope the Secretary of State will not regard any single scheme as being complete until it is linked up to the individual houses in the villages and until he has induced the local authorities to undertake that as part of their job.
I hope priority will be given to schools. Above all, I think first priority should be given to seeing that sanitation is brought into all schools because some of their sanitary equipment is in a disgraceful state. You cannot expect teachers to be responsible for the state of the outside school buildings. Too many things have been 403 piled on to them arid they are being made general clerks and administrators of all sorts of jobs for other people which take them away from their main task. I think more should be done in the examination of the sanitary system and water supplies of schools and a great deal could be done to provide a clean water supply. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has already covered the question of agricultural requirements, and all I am going to say is that you cannot have clean milk supplies where you have not clean cattle. You cannot have clean cattle unless you have plenty of clean water. A good case has been made out by various hon. Members already in this Debate, and in the Debate on the White Paper, for allocating to the agricultural people ample supplies of water for animals as well as for human beings. I think now the Secretary of State should have regard to the importance of making certain that local authorities, in applying themselves to these tasks, with the assistance of generous grants, make the fullest possible provision for future industrial expansion in the Highlands. I will concentrate for a moment on the industry which I think is possibly the most hopeful one, after the land and fishing, and that is the tourist industry. You cannot get a tourist industry until you have provided the convenience of sanitation and hot and cold water supply in the individual houses.
May I end on this note, that the human element in this is the most important of all, that is to say, we have to make life livable for people, particularly women, in these rural areas. They have all the responsibilities and all the obligations of citizenship that women have in the cities, but have to go to these miserable wells and surface pools and collect water off roofs, have to scrub floors where other women have only to sweep, and have to undertake 100 per cent. more work and give up so much more of their leisure than those in the cities. All that because of the lack of hot and cold water in their homes. Although we have criticised certain points and made certain suggestions, I hope they will not be regarded as having been made purely for destructive purposes. While regard was obviously not paid to our suggestions in the White Paper, I hope that some regard will be paid, if not to us, to the people we represent who have so long 404 and so patiently waited for the things we have suggested to-day.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
May I intervene to reply to one or two peculiarly Scottish points which have been raised in to-day's discussion? The general points will be replied to by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. There has been a tendency in some quarters to say that Scotland has either too much compared with England, or that England has too little compared with Scotland. I think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), in making out his case, was rather less logical than is his custom. He spent a considerable portion of his time in proving that there was not enough money in this Bill, and then he wound up a more or less eloquent peroration by saying that in any case this money was going to the wrong quarters. Well, it is not—not a penny. This money is going in contributions to local authorities in Scotland and to them only. The local authorities are getting grants-in-aid for a specific purpose, the purpose being to provide in Scotland a supply of wholesome water in pipes to every rural locality in which there are houses or schools, and to take the pipes affording that supply to such point or points as will enable the houses or schools to be connected thereto at a reasonable cost. There are existing water supplies which may be augmented here, but the great purpose of this Bill—in which I am sure my hon. and learned Friend generally concurs, despite his fears—is that there should be the largest possible number of persons in this country getting piped water for their homes.
§ Mr. C. Davies
With the assistance of the money granted by this Bill, with the money that will be expended by the local authorities, water will be brought now very near to a house which hitherto has not had a supply of water. The moment that connection is made, at a very small cost to the owner, the value and the rent of that house are bound to go up.
§ Mr. Johnston
No, Sir, I dispute that. I dispute the suggestion that the value will go up, and the rent is protected by other means. Leaving that for a moment, however, the point I am making here is that the Government, through the 405 Treasury, are offering grants-in-aid to the local authorities for what, I hope, is generally accepted as a beneficial policy. There is a general belief that, because in this particular instance the Scottish allocation is £6,000,000, we have acted as horsecopers, that we have overreached the simple Treasury. I do not know if the hon. and learned Member or any of his friends have ever had the experience of trying to prove a case to the Treasury. Believe me, you have to prove it to the last comma before you get anything. On what basis is this £6,000,000 estimated? First of all, there is the Geological Survey which shows that by and large in Scotland we have no wells, that our water is surface water which has to be carried long distances in pipes. The survey, which, I agree, is only half completed, has provided a fairly decent cross-section, however, and has enabled us to prove that, in our country, with our geological formation, with our absence of wells, our absence of underground water supplies, and so on, this is absolutely necessary if we are to provide for the needs of our rural community. I therefore hope that with that explanation the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and those who think with him will acquit us of overreaching the Treasury in this matter.
A great deal of the discussion which has taken place to-day has not really been on the Bill at all. It has been on the White Paper which, as has been repeatedly said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, is to be the subject of further administrative measures. This Bill is simply a grant-in-aid, a Measure to enable us to do two things—first, to hold consultations with local authorities as to details, and then to enable us to have preliminary discussions with them on the wider questions of amalgamation and compulsion, and the sanctions which may be required. May I draw attention to one part of this Measure which is not purely a grant-in-aid? It is Clause 3, by which ten local government electors may appeal to me or my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health if, in their view, the decision of a local authority is inadequate. If they think that the reasonable cost in a particular area is not proved, these ten electors may appeal, and the Minister may then hold an inquiry. If the case is proved, then the local authority is instructed to proceed with the scheme, but if the local authority's case is shown 406 to be unjust, then an order is given that they shall not proceed with the scheme.
I quite agree with those who have said that this Bill does not guarantee a piped water supply for every house, in every parish, in every glen and hillside, but it goes a considerable way towards providing a piped water supply for houses and schools in rural areas where such a supply can be reasonably provided. I hope we shall have the opportunity of explaining later why the lay-out of these Bills is the lay-out we favour, and I hope we shall get the concurrence of the local authorities. Some hon. Members who have been in contact with local authorities have already said that they are favourably disposed to this lay-out and I hope there will be general concurrence that our Measure is reasonable and just. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) asked me two specific questions. He asked whether we would give only a 50 per cent. grant to local authorities, to county councils.
§ Major McCallum
I think my right hon. Friend slightly misunderstood me. What I asked was whether it will be necessary for a local authority to put down as much again, if they are given a grant.
§ Mr. Johnston
No, Sir, the Minister is not handicapped by any such inhibition. Other questions, such as that of need of and ability to supply water must, obviously, be taken into consideration.
§ Mr. Johnston
Any sort of question may be considered. There is nothing in the Bill to say that the Minister is confined to a 50 per cent. or any other grant-in-aid. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll asked whether grants would be given to private concerns. The answer is "No"; the grants in Scotland are to local authorities, who will be responsible, under the Bill, for seeing that a piped water supply is provided. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) referred to water for agricultural holdings and farmhouses in remote rural areas which could not be covered by this Bill. I do not anticipate that there will be many, but there will be some. In the Measure we passed on Tuesday provision was made to give some assistance in these cases, and I hope that 407 by the time we have our supply we shall be in a position to see how far the amount of money which was approved on Tuesday will be adequate to meet these exceptional cases.
§ Mr. Levy (Elland)
I am honoured to think that, with the exception of one hon. Member opposite, I am the first Member to raise the question of water supplies and drainage for England. The whole Debate, up to now, has dealt with Wales and Scotland. Almost every speaker has been a Scottish Member. A good deal has been said about the White Paper, and I want to make a very strong protest against the way this Bill has been produced by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture. We were told that the White Paper was intended to be a preliminary canter in order that the opinions of Members should be obtained and should receive consideration before the subsequent legislation to provide water supplies. Yet this Bill was printed before the discussion on the White Paper ended. The White Paper was based an platitudes, and on general lines, and on the day it was discussed, it transpired that this Bill had been already printed. Either the Minister, or an official, must have given notice at the Table that this Bill would be introduced on the day after the first day's Debate on the White Paper. It was introduced and, curiously enough, it obtained its First Reading before the Motion for the approval of the White Paper had been agreed to by the House. If that is not treating this House of Commons with derision, and making discussions on White Papers a farce, I would like to know what is.
During the Debate on the White Paper not one Member said that the grant-in-aid was adequate, or that the general principles it contained would meet the situation. What have we now? We have this Bill. Here was an opportunity for the Minister to be a big man. Had he had vision, courage, competence and ability, he would have been able to come forward and say, "I am going to give water and sanitation to people who have not got it. I am a real Minister of Health, and not the titular head of a Department, a man who speaks from a brief." Instead of that, what does he do? He brings forward this Bill.
The Bill is a sham, a pretence and camouflage. It will not supply a single 408 pint of water to anyone living in a remote rural area, yet they will be called upon to subscribe to the rates. For the last 30 years the methods of local authorities and private enterprise in supplying water have been condemned by commissions and committees. It was found that it was inefficient to create an adequate water supply. The Bill perpetuates the very thing that has been condemned for the last 30 years. More, the Bill is going to give grants to local authorities but not to private undertakings. These grants-in-aid have to be equitably distributed. It seems obvious that, if you are going to distribute them equally according to need, in order to augment the substantial contribution that is be made out of the rates you cannot do it till you have got all the schemes made. The Minister, in his opening statement, said that the duty lies on the local authorities to supply water and sewerage and, so far as specialists are concerned, they are not available to him. If they are not available to the Ministry how are they going to be available to local authorities? Schemes are going to be brought forward and subscribed for out of the rates. They do not start increasing the rates until March, 1945. In order to make a satisfactory contribution it is reasonable to suppose that these authorities have got to create a reserve in the form of money. How long will it be before they qualify for a grant-in-aid? The Minister says no one is going to get 100 per cent. The first line of the Bill says precisely that the Minister is not to allocate the money. It is going to be referred to the Treasury, and they will decide how much money is to be given for any given scheme.
§ Mr. Willink
That is a complete misapprehension. The phraseology to which my hon. Friend is referring is an exact repetition of the phraseology of the 1934 Act, under which the allocations were made in the same way as they will be on this occasion.
§ Mr. Willink
The interpretation is that, as on the last occasion, certain general conditions will be agreed and the alloca- 409 tions will be made by my Department. If you make allocations subject to conditions, it does not mean that the people who make the conditions make the allocation. The words of the Bill say the exact opposite.
§ Mr. Levy
Though my right hon. and learned Friend has not been in the House very long, he has certainly learnt the art of political evasion.
Then we come to Clause 4 (b). That throws doubt on the ability of local authorities to be effective. The bringing of water mains is contemplated. What about the household, the farms and the dairies? Apart from the contributions they are making to the rates, they have to collect the water at their own expense. It is not to be taken to the premises. My right hon. and learned Friend will probably put another interpretation on it. With his legal ability, he will have no difficulty in doing so. I only read it as English and interpret what it says. The mains are to be laid only to what are considered reasonable points. I had a little cottage 10 or 12 years ago with no water laid on. We had to use a well. I had the water analysed and it was found to be not fit to drink. I thought I would be put on the mains, and they had to take up the road for 60 yards. It cost me the best part of £100 to have water laid on, and I had to pay for it when I got it. I took a place in the country a couple of years ago where there was a cess-pool for drainage. The local authority could not and would not empty it. They told me it should be pumped out into the ditch, from which it would ultimately run into the river to pollute the water. I got a private firm to empty it at £2 a time—£1 a week. Everyone in the neighbourhood had to do the same.
Local authorities will have to raise the rates for water, drainage, education and housing. How far is this money going? I ask for the withdrawal of the Bill. Withdrawing it would not deprive anyone of a pint of water, because they will get no water anyhow. The Minister has told us that this is preliminary to a major Measure, and he does not know when it will start because he does not know when the materials and labour will be available. No beginning can be made until after the war, because they have not got the experts. He hopes, by the grace of God, to retain a couple of experts who were about to retire.
§ Mr. Levy
That is exactly the same thing only in other words. It does not contradict what I said, that there are two men who ordinarily would not be there and who are going to carry out this marvellous scheme. While my right hon. and learned Friend is saying that, he says that he has not the experts to work out the schemes and he puts the burden on the local authorities—
§ Mr. Willink
My hon. Friend really must not misrepresent me so often. What I said, and what everybody knows, is that in the engineering profession we are short owing to the war, as we are short in many other directions. I never said that I had only two engineers.
§ Mr. Levy
I did not say that. What my right hon. and learned Friend said was that he was short of the expert people to prepare the schemes, and he puts the burden on the local authorities. While I was listening to him, I asked myself how he expected local authorities to obtain the experts, when Whitehall could not get them. My right hon. and learned Friend said that 30 per cent. of the country was without water, but that refers to population. There is seven-tenths of the country without water. The other three-tenths consists of urban areas where they serve the human population. As has been properly said in all parts of the House, the animal population has to he considered apart from the 2,000,000 people who are without a piped water supply in the rural areas.
I am disappointed and dissatisfied with this Bill. I have studied this question for the last 30 years. I have always felt that if any effort of mine produced a water supply that would lead to good health, I would have justified my length of service in the House of Commons. In season and out of season I have advocated a national water supply. If we do not have a national water supply, but continue to put the burden upon the rural local authorities, who have proved themselves not only inefficient but unable to do it, it will mean that the whole thing is being tinkered with. Our water supplies will always remain a makeshift. If I may sum up the Bill in a phrase, it is like the path to hell which is paved with good intentions, but the people will not get 411 their water. I ask the Minister to withdraw the Bill—and I ask the House to support me in that appeal—pending a comprehensive Measure that will do the work that the Minister desires to do.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
I must disagree with the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) in his claim for a great national water supply. I cannot join with him in his scarifying attack on the Minister. The Minister has inherited a situation full of difficulty, and I can only say, speaking for an area in Sussex which is very much a waterless area, that we are very glad this Bill has been brought in. We have, however, certain feelings about it. The first is that water supplies as such, exclusive of sewerage and sewage treatment, should be the first consideration and priority. We have once again in this matter, the spectacle of the initiative of private enterprise on which this Bill is built, and which in the provision of water, although not very efficient in some places, has generally been extremely well done. Private enterprise has certainly outstripped the efforts of the central Government and local authorities, and I feel that we owe a considerable debt to water undertakers.
One of the things that troubles me about the Bill is that it contains certain indications that the Minister will be able to delay the provision of water. I am glad to see in Clauses 1 and 2 that the Government are, at last, to begin to relieve the burden of those authorities which are poor and have large areas of agricultural land which carries no rates. That is all to the good. In Clause 3 there is a good deal about reasonable cost. I want the Minister to be good enough to help those of us who have an Amendment down for the Committee stage to put in something about celerity. Speed is what is wanted. Water supply is the first consideration and priority, and I hope that, in addition to the consideration of cost, there will be added the consideration of celerity. The rural areas deserve it. In the area in which I live, and for which to some extent I am speaking, the geological formations and the details of the springs and wells have been in the possession of the public and the authorities for at least 50 years. Yet there are three large areas or parishes which have no pipe water supply. On top of that, we 412 had recently, in East Sussex, a meeting of local authorities and water undertakers at which the regional water engineer expressed satisfaction with the quantity of water available, and many things were decided about the water supply. This Bill will enable the water to be provided. In Clause 1, lines 14 to 20, there is something about the provision of money for sewage treatment and sewerage purposes and which seems to give no security for making the supply of water a priority. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that water supply must be a priority, because the provision of sewerage can wait. I wish the Bill every possible success.
§ Mr. Douglas (Battersea, North)
The House is certainly unanimous about the need for the provision of a proper water supply for every home in the country. By proper water supply I mean one which is pure, which is brought into the home, and which is constant at all times of the year. It emerges clearly from the Debate that the House is concerned whether what is contained in this Bill will achieve that object. At first sight it appeared to mean that a piped water supply would be brought to every rural locality where there was a house or houses. A locality is, I believe, merely a place. The Bill appeared to provide for bringing a water supply to every place where there was a house, but, unfortunately, it is hedged in by a proviso that the local authority is not required to do anything which is not practicable at a reasonable cost. I do not think there is any doubt that it is practicable to provide a water supply for every house, hut the determining words presumably are "at a reasonable cost." We are entitled to have an explanation of the interpretation which is to be placed on that phrase, because it is the Minister in whose hands lies the power to determine any dispute about whether the cost is reasonable or not.
What standard is the Minister going to adopt in this connection? Is it in relation to the rateable value of the district concerned or of the house concerned? Is the Measure to be in relation to the cost per house, or the cost per inhabitant? The House is entitled to know what kind of standard the Minister has in his mind. Clearly, he must have a standard. He cannot get up here and say that he is not going to operate according to any principle, and that one district, or one inhabitant, may be treated in a totally different 413 fashion from another. There must be some principle in his mind by which this problem is to be settled, and I think the House ought to be informed what that principle is.
The Bill provides that the supply is to be taken to such a point or points as will enable the houses to be connected thereto at a reasonable cost. I do not know who is expected to pay for the connection, and whether or not this is to be imposed on the occupiers of the houses. The same problem arises. What is the standard of reasonable cost, and why should not tile supply be taken right to the house instead of being left at a distance from it? If, in some cases, the supply passes a house, and the cost of connecting it is negligible, and if in other cases the supply is brought only to a point at some distance from the houses and the cost of connection is appreciable, then one inhabitant will not be treated on the same basis as another. In this matter of water supply, which is a prime necessity of life for every individual, all should be placed on an absolutely equal basis, without discrimination of any kind whatever.
Let me ask another question. The Minister has not given to the House any indication of what he believes to be the total cost; not merely to the State, because that is given, but to the local authorities as well. What is, the total amount of money which will be laid out in providing these water supplies? Obviously, some estimate has been made. The Secretary of State for Scotland, in defending himself from the suggestion that undue preference had been shown to Scotland, indicated that estimates of some kind had been made and that it was upon that basis that the relative allocation of grants had been arrived at. I ask the Minister to tell us what total sum will have to be expended in order to provide the piped water supply. We are entitled to know, because the House should be able to judge of the proportion between the expense which is to be paid by the State, and that which is to devolve upon the local authority. The local authorities are entitled also to know it so that they can see in what position they are likely to be placed.
It is provided in the Bill that the council of the county must undertake to make a contribution towards the expense of the supply. I understood from the 414 Minister that that contribution would be equal in each case to the contribution made by the Minister himself. They were to contribute towards the expense an equal amount. At the same time, the Minister stated that, in dealing with the district or the borough, as the case may be, he would take into consideration the financial position of the local authority. Presumably, the better off that authority is, the less grant it will receive, and the worse off, the more grant it will receive. Therefore, the amount of the contribution of the county council, as well as of the Minister, is to be determined by that circumstance. May I suggest to him, with all respect, that where the district council is worse off the county council will frequently be worse off, with the consequence that the poorer county council will be obliged to make a larger contribution than that which is financially stronger? That is a matter which appears to require some attention.
I should like to know what part of the cost will be expended upon the acquisition of water rights, way-leaves and other items of that kind. It may be, in some cases, that considerable sums will have to be expended to purchase the water, which, in itself, has no value and can have very little value to the owner, unless it is wanted for the purpose of a public supply. There, also, is a point which requires attention. With regard to the incidence of the cost upon the local ratepayers, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) referred to the very high rates in his part of the country, which fact, in many rural districts, is due to the complete derating of agricultural land. That land is going to be benefited, in many cases, by the piped water supply, to an enormous extent.
Illustrations have been given in the course of the Debate of the thousands of gallons required to meet the needs of a farm with a comparatively small number of cattle, in order to provide drinking water for the cattle, for cleaning out the byres, for cooling milk, and so on. As the agricultural land is derated, the owners, and the occupiers for that matter, of such land will not pay a single penny of contribution towards the cost of [...]piped water supply which will add so enormously to the value of the land in question. Let us look also at the position of the other ratepayers. The cost of all this will be imposed upon the local rate. 415 It is expressly provided in the Bill that it shall be part of the charges of the county district and borne by the district rate. Therefore, it will be imposed entirely upon the occupiers of houses and the few other properties in the district which are not derated.
Sooner or later the ultimate benefit—it may be delayed by the operation of rent restriction—will go to the owners of those properties in the shape of increased rent, although the occupiers have to pay the cost. The Minister of Agriculture is one of the backers of this Bill. Let me allude to the way in which a similar problem of bearing the cost is determined in the case, for instance, of the roads which he has built in order to make land available for agriculture.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
This is a pretty dry subject, but the hon. Member must not go on the roads. That is absolutely beyond the limit.
§ Mr. Douglas
With respect, is it not in Order to suggest that some things which are omitted from the Bill might be included?
§ Mr. Douglas
I was merely giving an illustration of the way in which a cost had been met. Without developing it further I feel entitled to point out that in another Act of Parliament the cost of providing a public service was met by a charge which was distributed among the owners of the adjacent land roughly in proportion to the benefit received measured by the distance or other factors. It may have been a rough and ready method of computation, but it was a recognition of the fact, to which I am drawing attention here, that the ultimate benefit of this, so far as it can be translated into pounds, shillings and pence, will go to the owners of the land, although the occupiers are the persons who have to pay the local rates and the owners are entirely exempt from contribution. I consider that is entirely unfair, absolutely unjust, and is one of the factors which will prevent the carrying out of the project of giving a piped supply as rapidly as possible, because the burden on the occupiers will be so intolerable.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
This surely must be one of the most unpopular Bills that has been introduced by this Government. There has been no queue of Members so far to offer a bouquet to the right hon. and learned Gentleman on this Bill. Even the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has expressed his qualified disappointment. He was preceded by the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) and we are all a little breathless at the way in which he drove a coach-and-horses, or a bulldozer, through this Bill. I fully expected to see the Minister move to report Progress in order to reconsider this Measure, or possibly withdraw it. To-day we listened to a legal, almost classic battle on the Floor of the House of Commons, which might be described as the case of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of the Crown versus the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), on whether this Bill will ever supply water in rural areas. I must confess, although I have no judicial capacity, that I thought, as an ordinary Member of the House that the Minister lost badly. The fact is that this Bill has had, from all sides of the House, a very damp reception, and we are all wondering now whether this is really a water Bill or another piece of Government window-dressing. I have listened to a great number of speeches, and I have come to the conclusion that this Bill is simply passing the bucket, an empty bucket, to the local authorities, who will be no nearer providing water for the poorer districts in this country than they were before the Bill was introduced.
There have been complaints by the hon. Member for Elland. We have had complaints from Wales and from Scotland but very few speeches from England. The area I represent is suffering from a drought. It is always suffering from a drought. I am a member for a drought area. When I first came into this House I made a maiden speech on water, asking for drinking water for these rural areas. I shall always remember it because I was preceded by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who had spoken about the supply of water to the Glasgow slums. I ventured to point out that in my constituency a good number of districts were in the position of having no drinking water at all. Yet here we are, 15 years after, still debating in the House of Commons a Bill which will give very 417 little real hope to the countryside. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Health once fought a by-election in my part of the world, at Ipswich. The present hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) defeated the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with what results the House of Commons has seen. But I seem to remember something in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's election address about the water shortage in East Anglia. I thought at least that he was going to live up to his election address. Since then he has come into the House to occupy the great position he now holds via the constituency of North Croydon, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had had a little time during his by-election in Ipswich I could have taken him to areas within a few miles of that important town where the people are today still drinking the skimmings of the ponds and the drainings of the roads. I could take him to rural slums where people in happy, beautiful, wonderful, rural England are still living in conditions of almost cottage serfdom. I ask myself, when I look at this Bill: Will it bring any help, hope or relief to these people?
I also ask myself why it is that Government after Government of whatever colour, complexion or coalition, seems unable to face up to this problem of the poor, and in many cases the derelict, rural areas. Perhaps it is because the industry of agriculture in those areas is a poor one, or certain parts of it are. I, personally, believe it is because no Government has ever produced an area or national plan for rural social necessities, which, as my hon. Friend said, is the only way we will ever tackle these problems. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery knows, there is perhaps another reason. Perhaps there is the reason that in our poorer country areas, good honest folk who have no greed in their hearts make no complaint, no insistent demands, about these things, have no political power. Perhaps they have not got a vote in terms of modern power politics, or in terms of a great trade union or confederation of employers in the House of Commons. Various figures have been given; my hon. Friend gave figures. Of course one can show that the voting in this country is predominantly urban. That is, perhaps, the rock-bottom reason 418 why we are unable to get this problem tackled. I came down in the train the other day with one of the American engineers who have been building aerodromes and camps over here. I showed him some of the cottages and other features of rural Suffolk. His opinion was that of most business people, that, even upon an economic basis, a Government should be able to provide to-day a water supply for rural areas without this piecemeal method. Modern building plant and civil engineering has made this possible. I do not believe that this Bill will show the way to do it. It is no good leaving the initiative to the poorer local authorities. They have not the rateable value or the credit facilities to do it.
I want to ask two specific questions. What is the position of those local authorities which have aerodromes or camps near their towns? I do not altogether expect the Government, under this Bill, to give us the water in the near future. Very often the American Military authorities or our own military authorities have put in not only a pressure water tank system but a system of sanitation. Who actually owns that water supply and that sanitation? Will it be available to the town or village near by, after the war, for purchase at an agreed price? Many of these are first-class water schemes. They may not be ambitious in appearance, they may not be piped water in the modern sense, but they supply good water to areas which have never had a good supply before. If a local authority desires, at the end of the war or sooner, to raise a loan and acquire one of those systems will it be able to do so, under this Bill? Will they be able to take an option of purchase, now? Secondly, what is the position of a small town which has had a great strain put upon its resources by the billeting of large numbers of troops and war workers? The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary I think knows the case to which I am specifically referring, where the sanitation and water resources have been greatly strained. This district has been unable to deal with the matter by raising local rates or by way of loan. Whenever representations have been made to the Ministry for a loan, the application has been unsuccessful. Is there to be any help, not now perhaps, but in the future, for a small town or a rural district which has had an excessive strain put upon it in this way through its war effort?
419 I do not think that you can get a water supply in some of these rural areas upon a rate basis, or upon the borrowing or credit-worthiness of that district. I believe that you will never get a proper water supply until the towns really treat the country as their own garden, and see that the garden is kept watered and cared for. It should be a national obligation upon us to see that, instead of investing thousands of millions in Germany or somewhere else abroad, as was done before the war, we invest it in the amenities and health of our own country. When the men of the Fighting Services return, at the end of the war, they will not go back to the countryside and village life unless rural social amenities are improved. This Bill is another example of Government piecemeal legislation. It has been said over and over again, in this House, particularly by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery, that what we need is a cohesive plan, which will co-ordinate these various schemes, so that the local authorities will see what they are to do in future, and what they can expect from the Government. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Elland is going to divide the House, but I would strongly urge the House, if it wants to get water for the rural areas, to vote if necessary against this Bill or to urge the Government to withdraw it, and to introduce another scheme, based upon a national or area plan, which will give the rural districts of this country their right and fruitful place in the future of our country.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I am not going to ask the Government to withdraw this Bill. I am very sorry for the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville), who has been after water for 15 years and has not been able to get it. I hope that the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) will follow up his forceful speech by asking for the nationalisation of all the good things of life. He is most emphatic that water should be nationalised. If water should be nationalised, I think that food and other things should be nationalised.
§ Mr. Griffiths
That is the hon. Member's opinion, but it is not my opinion. If he wants nationalisation of one thing, I want it for others. I should like coal to be nationalised. I want to refer to something else which is very important, that is, the report which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) made to the Government in March, 1939, about Wales. It was a damning indictment of water conditions in the majority of the counties. In that report he showed that the origin, practically, of the scourge of T.B. there was the abominable state of the water supply of North Wales. Up to now the Government have not lifted a finger about that. I wish that the Minister of Health would turn up that report. Only last week the emergency committee of the national executive of the Urban District Councils Association was called together in the Middlesex Guildhall expressly to discuss this Bill.
We have had resolutions galore from district authorities all over the country saying that this is a very poor affair. Clause 3 has too many provisos about it for me. The first part of the Bill says: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 to be connected thereto at a reasonable cost.When our folks saw that—"at a reasonable cost"—the executive came to this opinion—"These people will not get this water." The cost to the country, if everybody is to have a piped supply of water, irrespective of what they are, should be met. It must be met, but not out of the rates. When we come to the question of reasonable costs, there are provisos, which, in a sense, are more damning than the first part of Clause 1. Clause 3 (1) provides that:This Subsection shall not require a local authority to do anything which is not practicable at a reasonable cost.What do a local authority do if it cannot provide it at a reasonable cost, and what can it do at a reasonable cost so far as water is concerned? It is a complete failure. It goes on to say:(b) If any question arises under this Subsection as to whether anything is or is not practicable at a reasonable cost or as to the point or points to which pipes must be carried in order to enable houses or schools to be connected to them at a reasonable cost, the Minis- 421 ter, if requested so to do by the council of the county or by ten or more local government electors in the district of the local authority, shall, after consulting the local authority, determine that question and the local authority shall give effect to his determination.If they go to the Minister and say "Look here, we want it," the Minister says "Is it a reasonable cost?" Why does he say that? It is in this Clause. But if the local authority says it is not a reasonable cost, and they say "Our rates are 19s. 7d. in the £ and 'reasonable cost' means putting a shilling or 1s. 6d. on them"—
§ Mr. Griffiths
Certainly. I have got a case in East Yorkshire where there is a stream, and one side of that stream is covered with frog spawn, and the other side is filthy. There are 32 people who have to drink water out of that stream, and they have to get it out of the middle of the stream because both sides are filthy. It is a rural district and the council have not been able to alter it because the cost is too much for them. I do not want the Minister to withdraw the Bill, and I do not purpose to divide the House. I am not going into the Lobby with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eye, but I do ask the Minister to give serious consideration to this Clause 3 and, if there are any Amendments to it, I hope he w[...] give reasonable consideration to them and take out this proviso about a reasonable cost.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
I have listened, I think, to practically all the speeches in this Debate, and I am not so pessimistic as the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). I think he happented to be in the House when we had speeches opposing the Bill and, perhaps, did not happen to be here when some hon. Members praised it. This Debate is what you might call a mixed bag—a certain amount of praise and a certain amount of blame. I was interested when the hon. Member for Eye said that he felt rather sad on the subject, because his maiden speech had been on the subject of providing water for the rural areas, but that, in the years he had been in the House, while great attention was paid to the towns, which had been able to get water, never had any attention been given to rural areas. But I felt, as the hon. Mem- 422 ber went on, how pleased he must be to-day after all these years of work. Here we have a Bill entirely concerned with rural water supplies. The charge that the Government are not paying attention, as they ought to have done, is not made out. The Government have brought forward this Bill concerning rural water supplies because of the importance of the subject. Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) have complained that we brought forward the White Paper and then produced this Bill before full discussion had taken place on the White Paper. It is made quite clear in the White Paper, on page 14, paragraph 7, that the Government's intention was to bring forward, with as much speed as possible, this small part of the White Paper scheme dealing with rural water supplies because it was an urgent matter.
I hear hon. Members say "What we want is a plan," but what I want to see is a tap, and I do not want to see the provision of that tap in a rural area held up because of bigger plans which the Government have promised and which are outlined in the White Paper. We have said that these schemes to deal in the meantime with the rural water supply will not in any way take away from the important schemes of the White Paper. It is a separate thing, and an urgent thing, and it is because of the urgency, and the fact that this is an opportunity for authorities to make their plans now so that they can get the actual work done when labour and materials are generally available, that we want to get this small part of the water scheme accepted now, so that the plans may be ready.
Several hon. Members have spoken of the appalling difficulties of houses where there is no water supply, and have said that they are very sorry for the women with housework to do and all the difficulties of carrying water. These women say they want this water supply urgently in their houses. I would only ask hon. Members to take it from me, as a woman, that we would rather get a smaller plan going, than wait until the larger plans can be worked out and very intricate legislation brought into this House. That is the reason for bringing forward this small Bill—only a little Bill, as I have been told over and over again—but it will be a very big thing for the people who 423 get the water into their houses. They will not consider it a little thing. It may affect only a small part of the population, but to those whom it does affect, it will be a very big thing.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Yes, the Bill is small, and, for that reason, should go through more quickly, so that we can get on with the plans.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I will try, in the time remaining, to reply to the other difficult questions that have been proposed. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) was very alarmed by the words "reasonable cost," but if he had gone on and seen that ten local authority electors could ask to come to the Minister, that might have given him some assurance. I think he will see, as the thing has worked out under the 1934 Act, and as I hope it will work out now, that it is as well to have in these words. You may have some schemes put up in which the cost may not seem reasonable for what is to be done. It will be better to see whether you cannot get some further arrangement with another local authority. You may be able to get a reasonable job for a reasonable cost. But the hon. Gentleman need not fear too much the words "reasonable cost." As the scheme is worked out, I believe he will find that the very people of whom he is talking will in all probability be given a supply.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I was interested in the suggestion made by my hon. Friend, which I have already referred to the Minister of Agriculture. The hon. Member for Eye spoke about camps and airfields in various parts of the country, and I can tell him that we have been in consultation over that problem. We are in touch with all Departments concerned with camps and airfields, whatever Department it may be. An arrangement has béen made by which no sources will be disposed of until we come to an agreement as to the best use that is to be made of them, and we are aware of the opportunities both in respect of water supply and drainage.
The hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Douglas) spoke on the subject of the 424 pipe or main being brought to the house, and asked why it was not laid down that the water should be brought into the house? That is the responsibility, as I think he knows, of the houseowner, and in effect the local authority can in certain cases compel the owner to carry out this duty if it is satisfied that there is a water supply available, and the owner can be compelled to spend up to £20. If the house comes within the Rent Restrictions Act, he can, having spent that money, increase the rent by an amount equal to eight per cent. of the capital cost of the improvement. The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear - Admiral Beamish)—the hon. Member for Eye could not have heard his speech—welcomed the Bill and hoped that there would be another Bill; he was very anxious that water should get a priority rather than sewage disposal.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. Member referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) and said that no one welcomed the Bill. I was apparently mistaken in thinking that he had not heard the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
There were plenty more. The hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) asked about several definite points. He called this a little Bill, but I believe he called it a little Bill with a feeling of affection rather than of scorn. He was not sure that the money would be sufficient, and many hon. Members, on speaking £15,000,000, have rather given the idea that they thought that that was to be the only money to be spent, and that the grant-in-aid was to be 100 per cent. My hon. and learned Friend, in introducing the Bill, gave some figures of what happened in regard to the grant-in-aid in the Act of 1934, when £7,000,000 were spent, as the hon. Member for South Bristol said. He remarked that he could not be so optimistic that that would happen again. In this case the grant, although for water and sewage, is £15,000,000, so we have got a long way ahead of the original £1,000,000, and this, I thought, would give some satisfaction to the hon. Gentleman. He also asked when the scheme would start!
425 We are anxious that when this Bill becomes an Act the local authorities can then get their plans ready. Until the war has been won and there is labour and material, no work can be done. It will not be possible to say the exact amount of money in grant to be given to each authority till they can go to tender and find out the price of the work. We are aiming at getting schemes prepared as soon as possible, and the reason the Bill is now introduced is so that the local authorities can make their plans and be ready to go to tender when the time comes.
The hon. Member also asked if there would be any report as to how the work was getting on. Yes. As the schemes go on he will find in that yearly Report of the Ministry of Health how much has been done. Of course, on the Vote, the question can be brought up if any further details are required. The other point which he said was obscure was on the subject of grants. He asked if grants were to be paid direct to companies. No, the grants will be paid only to the local authorities, who can require the statutory companies to carry out extensions in exchange for a guarantee of revenue. Or the local authority can give the supply itself by a scheme of its own if the company agrees. If the company does not agree, the local authority can apply to the Minister to override the refusal.
§ Mr. A. Walkden
But it brings the companies in, surely. They are brought in under Clause 5 of the Bill.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Yes, but the grant would be given to the local authority who would deal with the company.
§ Mr. Walkden
They are going to be fattened with public money and that is my concern. I do not want the public to have to pay over again, when we take it over.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I was coming on to what I thought the hon. Gentleman referred to, the process. The grant is paid to the local authority, who can then come to an agreement with the company for an extension in exchange for a guarantee of revenue. We certainly would watch from the Ministry.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
We certainly should watch from the Ministry what the companies receive, in the same way as what companies should continue to exist. If there were two small companies doing the work when we thought there should be some co-ordination, we would raise that. The application for grant does give us control.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Will the Minister force these water companies to do this job, whether they want to do it or not, if they think they are not making sufficient profit?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Yes. I have already said that if the local authority cannot agree with the company, they can apply to the Minister and the Minister can override.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. Member for South Bristol asked about further schemes of co-ordination, as did several other hon. Members. The biggest schemes naturally will be under the legislation as outlined in the White Paper. This deals with the rural authorities. I can assure the House that a grant will not be given if it is simply going to continue small undertakings which ought to work together. At the time when they apply for a grant, we shall see if we cannot get a reorganisation which will give the best possible water supply to that particular district.
I find that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland replied to the Scottish Members he really answered a good deal of the speech, of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). With regard to the point whether Scotland will get too much in comparison with England, I had written down some notes in defence of the Scottish position but, after the speeches we have heard from several hon. Members, I feel that no defence is needed.
§ Mr. C. Davies
The hon. Lady is doing me an injustice. I was not attacking the position of Scotland; I was only pointing out how badly off we were in Wales. I wanted to bring Wales up to the standard of Scotland.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. and learned Member was saying that there ought to 427 be more money for England and Wales, and in his argument he said that Scotland had got a rather better bargain than England and Wales. He referred to the number of people living in rural areas, but he will agree that the expense of providing water in such areas cannot be assessed by the number of people in those areas. The expense is greater where the popuation is scattered, because there are fewer consumers. Hon. Members have said, "Will this money be enough to do the job?" The future will show. I believe that we shall break the back of this particuar problem with this amount of money. I may be wrong, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister may be wrong. At any rate, it is the biggest attack we have made on the problem up to date. We have taken the rural areas by themselves. We are bringing forward this Measure before the main scheme of water supplies because it is urgent. I ask hon. Members to go with us as far as that, and then see what is left over.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I am anxious that we should first get the Bill through. If we can get the support of hon. Members for this Bill then we can see who was right in this Debate.
§ Mr. R. Morgan
Do I understand that if water or drainage cannot be provided at a reasonable cost in a certain area, circumstances would remain as they were in the district?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I thought I had made it clear that if a scheme came up for consideration, and it was thought that it could not be carried out at a reasonable cost, the matter would be looked into to see whether it would be possible to have another scheme at a more reasonable cost. I have answered many questions about water supplies during the last few weeks, among them Questions from the hon. Member for Eye, about cottages. Hon. Members would be the first to object if they thought that the cost of providing water was completely unreasonable, and that the Minister had not done everything he could to get a proper scheme at a reasonable cost. It has been said that land owners would get more money because of improved water supplies. We all want to make these improvements 428 first, and then hon. Members can make speeches to show who has got the most out of these improvements.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Boulton.]