§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Water Bill is, as anyone can see, a substantial Bill. It is also, inevitably by reason of what it sets out to do, an intricate Bill. It is one which will undoubtedly require close examination in due course, but without doubt, too, it is a very beneficial Bill. I shall ask the House confidently to give it a Second Reading. Fortunately I can say that, in spite of its complexity, there are two good reasons why it will not be necessary for me to detain the House for an unusual or a tedious time in moving the Second Reading. In the first place, this is a Bill behind which lies a specially long period of preparation and consideration, and, if I may say this with respect to the Parliamentary draftsmen, there is no doubt it is drafted and arranged very clearly and in very lucid language. The second reason why I do not feel that it is necessary to make a long speech to-day, or to go through the whole subject-matter of the Bill in detail, is that it does, in fact, follow very closely the proposals in Part I of the White Paper, which was fully debated less than 12 months ago.
I will recall what happened with regard to that White Paper. There was a Motion upon it, which was accepted without a Division. I had the privilege of inviting the House to welcome the intentions of the Government to introduce 817 Measures under four heads. With regard to two of these we have nothing to do to-day—first, the question of the further extension of public water supplies and sewerage in rural localities. That has been dealt with in the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act of last year and the House will recall the terms of that legislation. The second question with which we have nothing to do to-day is that of a Measure for the proper management of rivers. That was dealt with in Part II of the White Paper and will be the subject of separate legislation dealing with river boards, which, I confidently hope, will be introduced in the course of this Session. So what we are to-day concerned with is a Measure dealing with the other two matters—the conservation and better utilisation of the country's water resources, and the improvement of the administration of water supplies.
I should like to approach this matter in a general way. The number of different topics dealt with in the Bill is very large, but they can be approached under three heads, and I hope these will throw some light on the general scope of the Bill. I must give a little of the legislative background, because here we are dealing, or attempting to deal, with a situation in which the law is in an obsolete and archaic state. The first point is that general Acts dealing with water have been rare—too rare—in our legislation, so rare that one of the important purposes of this Bill is to provide an up-to-date substitute for the general Act of 1847—the Waterworks Clauses Act. As far as water undertakers operating under special Acts are concerned we are still, in some respects, in the position which was described as long ago as 1844–5 by the Duke of Buccleuch's Commission on the Health of Towns. They said, as their first comment on water:There is no general law applicable to the subject.With regard to Special Act undertakers that is substantially the case to-day, because the 1847 Act and its successor of 1863 are such that it may still be said, as was said in 1844, that some of the Acts of the local authorities and other undertakers are out-of-date and that there is great need of a simple, speedy and inexpensive procedure for amending them. What led up to that great Act—for it was a great Act—of 1847 was a situation 818 not dissimilar to what we have to-day, though in a much narrower field. The number of local authorities operating water supply functions in those days was small and, in the main, water supply was the function of special companies. But then too, as to-day, there were individual special Acts conferring powers on groups of people, companies, and local authorities here and there, Acts varying very widely in the powers given and in the balance that was struck between the interests of the community and the interests of the promoters. In 1847, when the Act was drafted, its Preamble recited these principles:It is expedient to comprise in one Act sundry provisions usually contained in Acts of Parliament authorising the construction of waterworks for supplying towns with water, and that as well for avoiding the necessity of repeating such provisions in each of the several Acts relating to such undertakings as for ensuring greater uniformity in the provisions themselves.And so then, as we propose now, an Act was brought into operation regulating the relations between undertakers, consumers, highway authorities and so forth in the day-today working of the undertakings. That Act of 1847 is commonly known as the "Waterworks Code." It is not an Act which operates of itself but it becomes operative when it is incorporated, with any necessary adaptation, in the special Act of a particular undertaking. There were a few more Clauses added in 1863 but until to-day there has been no general revision of the Code by Act of Parliament. Many valuable Clauses more suited to modern conditions are found in individual local Acts and some of them are of first-class importance—for example, the right of water undertakers, local authorities and consumers to apply to the Minister for revision of charges, upwards or downwards, which now appears, and will be universal, in Clause 38 of this Bill. But there is no doubt whatever that the local Acts and Orders which were obtained at various times differ very greatly, regrettably and unnecessarily, in their provisions, and the time is more than ripe for a new Code, keeping what is best in the old Clauses Acts and adding what is best in modern legislative practice. That new Code will be found partly in the body of the Bill but, in the main, in the Third Schedule, which Clause 32 makes it possible for the Minister to apply both 819 to future Orders authorising, for example, particular works and eventually to the existing Acts and Orders, so as to secure the greatest practicable uniformity in the enactments which govern the operation of the individual undertakings.
I must remind the House that this new Code is based on the Second Report of the Milne Committee, presented in April, 1939. That Report formed the basis of the Water Undertakings Bills of 1939 and 1943, which were not in any way condemned on their merits but for which time could not be found in the second House on those earlier occasions. So a first objective of this legislation is, in view of the untidy and unsatisfactory nature of the existing Code, to make a general and comprehensive attempt, after all these years, to fit the Code to modern conditions in a general Act instead of in a series of special and local Acts.
The second main feature of the Bill arises from the fact that, as our history has developed, there have come into existence two main but quite distinct types of water undertakers—first, the earlier in date, those which, whether they be local authorities or companies, operate under special Acts; and secondly those that operate under the provisions of the Public Health Acts. Let me take first the more modern type of undertakers, those which exercise powers under the Public Health Acts. These have come into existence and have developed because of the development, in the course of the nineteenth century, of the public conscience and public opinion on the public responsibility for health. Gradually, in a series of Public Health Acts, effect was given to the view which had been expressed by that same famous Commission, the Duke of Buccleuch's Commission, that there should be placed on the local government authorities the general duty of securing, though not necessarily themselves providing, supplies of wholesome water for the inhabitants of their areas. I can shorten this and the position is, I think, accurately summarised in' this way. By 1872 the position was broadly what it is to-day. The urban and rural sanitary authorities had been set up by the Public Health Act, 1872, and all of them—the sanitary authorities as they were then called, but, as we should call them, the public health authorities—had the duty of seeing that there was whole- 820 some and sufficient water for the needs of their areas. The duty was and still is to secure that someone provides the water, and, if need be, the authorities had to do it themselves when there was no statutory undertaker already in the field. By these Public Health Acts the authorities were given not only duties but wide general powers to carry out the necessary works. They were subject to Departmental control but, unlike the Special Act undertakers, they did not require ad hoc legislation for new works or other matters.
This duality has given rise to a very unsatisfactory situation in the general state of our law. There are two types of water undertakers who, so far as their powers are concerned, are quite distinct and different. And, of course, while the Public Health Act undertakers were gradually developing and operating, all the time the Special Act undertakers were still operating and new statutory undertakers were coming into existence under special and local Acts. The special Act undertakers are closely limited by the vires in their special Acts. There is this further feature of that type of undertaking, that, while they can carry out only the precise works which their special Act allows, they cannot be compelled even to do that. The Public Health Act undertakers, under the more modern general legislation, have general powers to do whatever is necessary to supply their areas, subject to loan sanction—in the old days from the Board of Health, then the Local Government Board, and now the Ministry of Health. But the special Act type of undertaker needs a new Act of its own before it can even dig an extra well on its land. Subject to correction by my hon. Friend opposite that is, I believe, the position even of the Metropolitan Water Board to-day.
On the other hand, the Public Health Act type of undertaker can exercise its powers only for the benefit of its own borough or district, and that is a limitation which may frequently be wrong from the point of view of engineering or the proper planning of water supplies. For that very reason many local authorities, in order, for the general benefit, to supply an area outside their own area have been driven to apply for special Acts putting themselves into the other category. I think it is clear that there is no logical reason for such differences between the two types of undertakers. The differences 821 undoubtedly hamper the undertakers, hamper development and have hampered the provision of necessary public services. Consequently—and this is the second main feature to which I have called attention—this Bill contains a number of Clauses which enable all undertakers of the earlier type, the special or local Act undertakers, to do certain things with the Minister's consent which Public Health Act undertakers can do already, with Ministerial consent, of course, but without the need for special legislation.
To give a few examples; There are the power to combine by agreement and form a joint board, which is provided for in Clause 9; the power to construct and maintain reservoirs and other works, provided for in Clause 23; the power to purchase another undertaking by agreement; the power to supply water for trade and agriculture and other non-domestic purposes—an important matter on which I shall say more later; the power to buy land by agreement or otherwise for the purposes of the undertaking; the power to make by-laws against waste or misuse of water; the power to supply individual premises just outside but on the fringe of their limits of supply; and the power to acquire by agreement the right to take water from any source. In this same sphere, the assimilation between the two types of authorities, the Bill gives the Minister of Health default powers, such as he already has against the Public Health Act undertakers, against all special Act undertakers, whether local authorities or companies.
The third and most interesting part of the Bill relates to the very important new powers and obligations which it contains with a view both to enabling the Minister of Health to fulfil the duty placed upon him in Clause 1, and to enabling others—the undertakers themselves, the Geological Survey, the proposed Joint Advisory Water Committees—to fulfil the obligations in the sphere of planning and so forth which the Bill puts upon them. They are powers and obligations which affect both water undertakings and others, and they are in the Bill for the purpose of safeguarding our water resources, securing their proper use, and extending, as we all wish to do, the benefit of piped supplies of water. I can only summarise and give examples, but there is, first, the power to the Minister to approve or to compel 822 alterations of the areas of undertakings. There is power to secure, by compulsion if need be, a combination of undertakings. We all know that the undertakings are far too numerous, and it is a point upon which my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) spoke with force and eloquence in the Debates on the Rural Water Supplies Bill. There is provision in Clause 12 for the giving of bulk supplies. There is the power to the Minister to set up Joint Advisory Water Committees, a change of title to which I should perhaps call attention. They were referred to in the White Paper as "Regional Advisory Committees." Those Committees will consist of representatives of undertakings and local authorities, who will survey needs and resources over a wide area and formulate plans. There is a new power to secure information on the abstraction of water, a matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) called our attention on an earlier occasion, and there is power to get information with regard to wells and bore holes. Information is now to be available to the Geological Survey and others who cannot do their work without it, a matter which was referred to before by the hon. Lady the Member for Bodmin (Mrs. Wright). In Clause 14 there is a provision prohibiting all fresh sinkings of wells in certain critical areas except under licence, a matter to which a number of my hon. Friends attribute great importance. One finds in the Bill too that there is a tightening up of provisions against waste, misuse or pollution of water. The Minister is empowered to authorise the compulsory acquisition of water from any source, subject to proper safeguards; and the safeguards right through this Bill have, I can assure the House, been most carefully considered.
There are, in conclusion, three more important matters on which I must say a word or two. Clause 27 creates a new situation and gives new rights—outside the domestic sphere altogether—to industry, agriculture, and for other non-domestic purposes, with a provision for arbitration by the Minister where there is a refusal to supply or the terms and conditions proposed are unreasonable.
Secondly, the House will no doubt have observed that certain provisions which stand now in the Rural Water 823 Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944, are to be made general. Those are the extension of the duty to provide a pipe supply, as opposed merely to a wholesome supply, of water and the obligation put upon undertakers to accept guarantees from local authorities.
In the third place, on these final points, I should call attention to Clauses 29 and 30, which are designed to secure that, as we extend our water supplies, our work and that of the local authorities is not stultified by any failure to connect up the houses to the supplies.
§ Sir Granville Gibson (Pudsey and Otley)
May I ask a question? As the Minister is no doubt aware, boreholes receive supplies of water along strata which come to the surface at certain points. Is there any liaison between his Department and the Ministry of Town and County Planning respecting the prevention of building over those areas where the strata are at the ground surface, as such building—housing estates and so on—would stop the supplies of water entering the strata?
§ Mr. Willink
I am quite sure that we shall devise, as we must in many spheres to-day, that proper liaison to which my hon. Friend refers. Whether it should be specifically provided for in the Bill is, of course, another question.
I would like to say a word about the debt we owe, and have owed for several years, to the Central Advisory Water Committee, under Field Marshal Lord Milne. The House will have observed that that Committee, which was not a statutory body in the past, is now proposed to be put on a permanent statutory basis by Clause 2 of the Bill.
§ Mr. Willink
Not necessarily. A committee of this kind, which should be broadly based and widely representative is, in the view of the Government, indispensable. We propose to make very full use of its knowledge and experience. It will have been observed, no doubt, that 824 the terms of reference proposed for the Committee give them power to make recommendations and give advice on their own initiative.
A Bill of this nature, as I have said, will obviously require detailed examination, but I commend it to the House as one that, I believe, provides the necessary framework to ensure that the development of our water supplies will keep pace with our needs. I believe that the changes it makes are necessary. I believe that they are the minimum changes which are necessary for speed, efficiency and economy, combined with adequate safeguards for all interests concerned.
I think we have achieved much in this country in the past. We owe a great deal of our health to the work done by our water undertakers in providing safe and ample supplies in our great towns. We are free from cholera—that was one of the scourges that led to the great development in the 19th century. We are, I believe, in a leading position in the world in our almost complete freedom in recent decades from typhoid, and that is largely due to our water undertakers. However, we have this to face, that the demand for water is increasing, not only for domestic use but for agriculture and for industry. We can say, and be proud of the fact, that between the wars the number of houses in the countryside without piped water was halved. But there can be no doubt that in this very important service we need three things: we undoubtedly need more integration; we need more flexibility; beyond all, we need more informed planning, and we should not be blind to the fact that one-third of the houses in our countryside are still without a piped water supply.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman a question? What he is telling us is very interesting, and I realise he is trying to be brief on a very large Bill, but before he sits down, can he give us some indication as to when this Bill is to become effective and when it will get on with the work?
§ Mr. Willink
I will leave that for the moment. If my hon. Friend thinks that at the present stage we can get on with water supplies, sewerage, and many other things, he is more optimistic than myself about the year 1945. That concludes what I think it is necessary to say in moving 825 the Second Reading of this Bill. I hope and believe that the Bill is not controversial in any embarrassing degree, and I believe that it is one which the House as a whole will feel should go forward.
§ Mr. Willink
I said that one-third of those living in rural districts were without a piped water supply.
§ Major Mills (New Forest and Christchurch)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say if the Special Act of the Special Act undertakers will be over-ridden by this Bill, particularly as regards special provisions which may have been put in it for the protection of interests like agriculture or fisheries or, indeed of individuals?
§ Mr. Willink
That is such a general question that I do not think I can usefully answer it. Undoubtedly, however, there will be assimilation, and there will be modifications in the terms of Acts which are out of date.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)
In the first place I want to congratulate the Minister on the fulfilment of a promise. Cynics outside this House sometimes say that we never bother about promises once we have made them, but the Minister, after he had first alarmed me very much by saying that this Bill would be produced "in the not too distant future," has kept his promise so far as the term is concerned, and I thank him. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) must be equally pleased to see this Bill, so that he can have another chance of debating the water question.
I want to say how much we all appreciate the keen interest which he has taken in this subject for many years. With a perfectly open and sensible mind he has approached it as it ought to be approached, and as, indeed, all public services ought to be approached. We have got the bigger Bill promised by the Minister, but I will not say it is very beautiful. The Minister seemed very pleased with it, but it takes us only a very little way forward in the great task 826 that lies ahead; further, it has some faulty features to which I will direct the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention presently. The Minister has by no means exaggerated the importance of water and the need of an abundant supply. We must all recognise to-day, in the middle of the twentieth century, that all social progress in hygiene and health depends on the abundance of water. We have to recognise that the needs of industry are growing continually, and agriculture is asserting itself in this regard too We are very pleased, because agriculture has become one of our foremost and most progressive industries.
The first point I want to make is that we shall need more water, both in urban and rural areas. There will be the erection of millions of new houses. Not hundreds of thousands, not 75,000 as one of the Minister's predecessors said soon after the last war, but millions more houses will be needed after this war, and we shall want hundreds of millions more gallons of water, to provide those houses with their requirements, not merely for cleanliness and culinary purposes but for sanitation and other uses. That being so, the water question is of growing importance and this comprehensive Bill, as far as it goes, is long overdue.
In our view, this question falls into three heads. I want to amplify what the Minister said. In view of the need for this new water, we must have more catchment of water. Then, of course, its conservation is very important—the Minister is very concerned about that—and there is the distribution of supplies. The Bill deals mainly with the question of supplies. I am very sorry there is no Bill before us at the moment dealing with Part II of the National Water Policy Report, because that concerned the re-organisation of our catchment boards. We are told in that Report that there are about 16,000 of those boards now in existence. They are to be brought together under 19 river boards, more modern, more powerful and more cogent in every way. I think it is a pity we are not able to see that reform coming along, but I am glad to see the Minister of Agriculture listening to this Debate because we may hear from him when he proposes and brings his Bill forward. If he can give us a promise about that, we shall be very glad.
827 This matter of catching the water will be under the Minister of Agriculture and, in his enthusiasm, he will, naturally, think first of agriculture. I do not know whether he is worried much about urban problems. Will he make proper arrangements for conserving that water in proper reservoirs, because the Minister of Health will want an enormous lot more—and industry too, as well as agriculture? I regret there is to be a divided responsibility on this water question. The Minister of Health is to be concerned with hygiene, but the provision of the water will be in the hands of the Minister of Agriculture. I claim that there should be one supreme authority. There should be a National Water Commission, with power to act, and having the duty to act, continuously. That is the first fault in the present position.
This is a very big task indeed, and it will grow in the future. It is one of the greatest tasks of the glorious times that lie ahead. All the rest of this century will be a time of tremendous progress, and water will have a lot to do with it. I suggest, however, that to place the operative part of the work—or perhaps not even the operative part but the thinking part of it—in the hands of an Advisory Committee, is very inadequate, especially if the Minister is to re-appoint the old Advisory Committee. I join with him in paying a tribute to the work they have done, but I think they have finished their work. If this Bill is the result of their cogitations, I think it is not quite good enough. We do not want any more advice, we have plenty of that in these most excellent reports; we want a Ministry with power to act. I shall plead that that is necessary, because there is so much mutation on the part of Ministers, and because there is so much fluctuation in the pressure that is put upon Government Departments.
This is a job that wants an independent and responsible body to carry it through. Civil servants are not responsible. Subject to the requirements of their Ministers always, they are sometimes not allowed to concentrate on and proceed with their work. But if we have a single body with the responsibilities of carrying on the organisation, surveying the whole problem, and taking charge of all the resources for reorganisation and 828 reconstruction, then, I think, that work would go on continuously as is needed. Instead of more advice we want early, vigorous action and progressive action and, above all, continuous action. Unfortunately, Ministers come and Ministers go, and good Ministers go faster than the others. I have watched them for years. The average term of Ministers is only about two years, and then they have gone. I am not a gambler, and I would not like to bet on the term of office of the existing Minister, but I feel quite confident in my bones that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is destined for other work in the public interest, and when he has gone I do not know whether his successor will think as he has done. His immediate predecessor was not enthusiastic about the idea, and other predecessors exhibited even less interest. The whole responsibility, as I say, needs placing in other hands. Civil servants are not enough. They are worthy and competent, and have many other great qualities, but their minds are often divided, and they are always concerned about their Ministers; whereas a Commission would have a single task, and would go ahead with that task regardless of Governments coming and going and Ministers coming and going. The work would go on. As it is, we are never too certain whether it would not be subject to Ministerial changes. It is for this reason, that I ask the Government to consider the advisability of substituting for the Advisory Committee an operative Commission with power to act.
I also want to draw attention to certain very faulty features of the Bill. The Minister said he was going in for minimum changes. That is very evident, and indeed they are minimum. They do not spring forward at all. The right hon. and learned Gentleman concentrates on improving the administration of the water supply, but he is not creating anything very fresh, to get that improvement brought about. Instead of that, he is retaining all the existing agencies—he is not even going to liquidate them. Of course I notice that the Minister has the power, but will he use it? There is many a good Act on the Statute Book which is not operative, because of lack of will on the part of Governments and Ministers, and because of influence from reactionary people in the background. Not only is the Minister retaining these 829 agencies, many of which are quite undesirable, but he is reorganising and strengthening their position.
These concerns are the 149 statutory companies. There is a lot of talk in the Bill about these, and we know examples of some of them, big and little, some of which are good, and some not so good. In Bristol, we have a large company supplying 500,000 people—an enormous concern—and the municipality wants to take it over. The Bill is full of concessions and agreements and so on, but there is no power. That is what is wrong with the Bill. It is feeble; it is all too "goody-goody," too "Will he, or won't he?" too "Can he, or can't he?" That is not the way we want this great problem to be handled. Incidentally, may I say in regard to Bristol that it took an enormous interest in the 1939 and 1943 Bills? A lot of suggestions and proposals were made by Bristol. To my grief our town clerk, a most excellent and valuable public official, died suddenly a few days ago, and although I have the old instructions from Bristol to fight for improved facilities for a water supply, I am without his assistance at the present moment. We feel that loss very much indeed.
In addition to the 149 statutory companies there are about 80 non-statutory companies. I do not see any mention of these non-statutory companies. Apparently they are to be left to run along "on their own," under the various public Acts concerned. Then, I am informed, there are about 1,000 private purveyors of water, and some of us know the sort of things they do. They charge for it, and the people have to pay "through the nose" for it. In some rural areas the people are forced to pay excessively to get a bucket from the water cart, and very often the cart does not come round at all. What is the Minister going to do about them? Is he going to obliterate or liquidate them—I do not mind what word he uses. I want it all done by kindness. I want them got out of the way. They ought to be superseded.
As I have said, there is no power in this Bill. The word "may" appears again and again, not the categorical word "shall." There is no sign of the will to do this or that. The Minister has not given himself sufficient power, has not imposed any duties upon himself to deal adequately with these people. They are people who 830 do not inspire very much respect. A lot of these companies have been working on a 10 per cent. footing, and have paid that 10 per cent., many of them, on their original capital. I know they have raised a lot of capital at lower rates, and have then paid out at round about 7 per cent. This is very much more than what should be considered reasonable for rent of capital, for any good private monopoly which has a service in which there is no competition, in which everything is made safe and secure. But the Minister, instead of securing powers to himself to dispose of them, and place them under a new authority, is going to strengthen their position. He actually suggests in the Schedule that they may get new capital at rates up to 6 per cent.—6 per cent. on a solid public service undertaking, when municipalities have to work on 3 per cent., and the Government can get any amount of money at 3 per cent.
That is why we want the rate fixed at 3 per cent. Working under a national Commission, they could raise money much more cheaply than any local authority, and certainly more cheaply than any private concern. Some may think that my suggestions about these low rates of interest in the neighbourhood of 3 per cent. are optimistic. I can only say to the House that we have really got to grapple with this question of interest, on the thousands of millions required for the stupendous commitments we are making for the future. The rate should not go above 3 per cent.; in fact it ought to go below. One of the weaknesses during the last war was that the rate was fixed at 5 per cent. and we went right through the war with it at 5 per cent. In fact some local municipalities had to pay 5½ and even 6 per cent. to get money. We in this House must get down to this question of interest. We in the Labour Party are not opposed to a reasonable rent for capital, and to reasonable compensation, when a concern is taken over for public service. But I do ask that 3 per cent. should be considered the rate of interest for public money.
I do not think it is at all optimistic. I can remember a great Chancellor of the Exchequer to whom I think more honour and credit should be paid. He was a man who was not thought of at one time; then he was brought forward and did some wonderful things for this country. Lord Goschen was one of the many Jews who 831 contributed very valuable services to our country. He broke down the rate of interest on Consols in his time, from 3 per cent. to 2½ per cent., and he was able to do it because we were then enjoying a period of peace, such as we all feel confident we shall have again when this awful war is over. Do let us look to the future, and not get stuck in the precedents of the past. The fact is that the period from the first Jubilee of Queen Victoria—many hon. Members may not remember this, but I am glad to say that I can—from 1887 to 1897, was a period of solid peace, and during that period trustee money accumulated so much in the hands of the people who wanted to place it in proper investments, that the Government could get any amount of it at 2½ per cent. Goschen said to the bond holders "You can either accept my proposals for a reduction from 3 to 2¾ and then to 2½ per cent., or I will, as I can, raise new money and buy you out." And he could do it.
I remember that the Midland Railway raised a lot of money in 1897 on 2½ per cent. debentures at par. The Leeds Corporation raised some millions for public works which they got at 2½ per cent. What is needed is stability for the consolidation of our country and our Empire, and it is not going to be easy to achieve this stability, if we have to get our money at anything much over 3 per cent. I do not think it ought to be more than 2½, but 3 per cent. is good enough to be going on with. I think we shall see the time when people will be glad to part with their money to the Government at 1 per cent. and allow the Government to use it as they think best. I do protest against the Minister making provisions for these private water undertakings to get new money at rates of interest up to about 6 per cent. I know it can be said: "Well, private concerns may have a bit of bad luck; they may have a burst in their reservoir, and many other things like that." In fact, the Minister is making provision to underwrite the interest. If one of these private undertakings suffers some calamity, and cannot pay their full rate—of course they can be called upon to pay the full amount out the next year or the year after—they can call for the money out of the reserve and be tided over their difficulties in that way.
There is another consideration. These reserves provided for in the Schedules 832 will, of course, be added to the value of these concerns. They will be built up at the expense of the people using water, and as and when any public authority wishes to take over those resources, they will be the property of the company, and the country or the authority will have to pay for them all over again when there is need to recapitalise the concern. We protest against that. It reminds me of much of what happened in London, with regard to water supplies at the end of the last century, until the Metropolitan Water Board was set up in 1902. It was the talk of the newspapers of that period that over £40,000,000 was paid to London water companies which were taken over by the Metropolitan Water Board. Competent engineers of that time estimated that the whole outfit could have been replaced for about £25,000,000. The over-capitalisation of those London water concerns was a very scandalous matter.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister, in reply to a Question, said that the Government were strongly opposed to sharks. Those water companies of the 19th century were sharks, and I am talking about their apostolic successors now. The Minister, out of his tender regard for these fish, has made provision whereby they may not only get new money, but may bank up reserves to provide against a shortage of dividend in any one year, and provide reserves for renewal, maintenance and improvements. We do not quarrel with that in principle, but I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that in the Water Bills of 1939 to 1943, which originated in another place, the ratio of reserves that might be set aside was brought down from 1½ to 1 per cent. after Parliamentary discussion, and the aggregate amount that might be reserved for the benefit of the company was brought down from 15 to 10 per cent. The Minister is trying to perpetuate that 15 per cent. and that 1½ per cent., and I am surprised that he, of all people, should do anything like this. He seems to have copied the Clauses from those old Bills, and not to have taken cognisance of what happened afterwards, after Parliamentary discussion. Those are some of the faults of this Bill. In so far as it carries the matter further, and gives more power to the Ministry to act in the public interest, and to local authorities, it is a step forward, but it is a poor halting feeble Measure, which is nothing like as compre- 833 hensive as it ought to have been, in view of the enormous task that faces us in the future.
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Levy (Elland)
May I first thank the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) for the compliments he paid to me, which I highly appreciate? I listened with great interest and pleasure to the Minister when he was outlining the provisions of this Bill. It is perfectly true, as he has said, that for the last 100 years there has been nothing but tinkering and haphazard, patchwork legislation in connection with this country's water supplies. The result has been that a proper water supply has not been forthcoming. I would like to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary, and the Minister of Agriculture, on producing, for the first time for 100 years, a scheme which is comprehensive. I describe this Bill as a Bill of good intentions. I have always agitated that it is not unreasonable in a country like ours, that the human and animal populations should be provided with a supply of wholesome drinking water, which they do not get now and have never got in the past. I do not know whether hon. Members, including the Minister, have read the Women's Institutes' Survey, which was published in August, 1944. It shows that the conditions prevailing in some parts of the country to-day can only be described as appalling. They are much akin to, if not worse than, the conditions in some of the West African villages, about which we hear so much talk at present.
I have always advocated a national water supply, by which I mean that the supply should be of such a character that no human habitation or farm would get other than a wholesome supply of water. I have never been convinced that some of the stomach troubles from which our populations in the rural areas are suffering have not been caused or aggravated by the bad water which they are forced to drink. Similarly, I have never been convinced that the diseases from which many of our animals are suffering have not been caused or aggravated by the putrid, stagnant, impure water that they are forced to drink, and which is so bad that no fish can live in it. The conditions of a farm which has a wholesome water supply, where animals can drink out of a 834 concrete trough, are not comparable to those on a farm where the water is impure and unwholesome, and has to be obtained from wells. This is not a party matter; it is a national matter. Wholesome water is just as essential to the well-being of the human and animal populations as sunlight and fresh air. I have always agitated for such a supply, and I shall go on doing so until a national scheme comes into being.
This Bill is a Bill of good intentions, but I cannot see how it is going to be effective. I know it will be an improvement, and that it could be made effective, if it could be carried out, and I welcome it because it is a stop forward towards what I have always advocated—the control and centralisation of water supplies. But the set-up I have been advocating is not the set-up in this Bill and, therefore, I feel that a good deal more will have to be done before we in this country can say that we have a healthy water supply. Although I welcome the Bill, as far as it goes, it does not go anything like far enough. The theory in it is good, because it places upon the Minister for the first time, according to the Explanatory Memorandum:… the specific duty of promoting in England and Wales the provision of adequate water supplies. …, and the effective execution by water undertakers, under his control and direction, of a national water policy.I doubt the effectiveness of the means in this Bill to provide that end. You cannot provide a national water supply without money. It is an expensive proposition. I often wonder, when listening to the Chancellor and other Ministers talking about handing out millions of pounds for this, that and the other, where all the money is coming from. The hon. Member for South Bristol said that there would be plenty of money after the war for all these things. May I remind him, with great respect, that we are not a creditor nation any more, but a debtor nation? I cannot see where all the money which is needed is coming from, and that is one of the reasons why I cannot see this Bill becoming effective.
Apart from that, I can find nothing in this Bill about the financing of its policy. The only financial provisions that are made in it are for administrative expenses. Here is a so-called national 835 water policy, which lacks the effective means of making that policy effective. Let me remind the House that there are something like 1,000 water undertakers in this country. Many of them are municipal authorities, with the financial resources of the rates, but a substantial number are private undertakers, some of them quite small, and strictly limited in their financial resources. Of course, they have to run their companies at a reasonable profit. These local authorities are having a tremendous number of commitments placed on their shoulders which have to be provided for out of the rates, and in view of the immense measures of reform coming forward I cannot see how they will be able to provide, out of their rates, sufficient money to bring these essential services to fruition.
Let us take Clause 13—an unlucky number and an unlucky Clause. It gives the Minister wide powers in the event of a water undertaker defaulting. Imagine the case of a small water undertaker. He is called upon by the Minister to extend his area and to provide water in uneconomic areas. The undertaker says, very rightly, that he cannot afford it. Then what happens? The Minister may say he will take it over. But he has not the money to take it over. He has to buy it out. Therefore it is idle to suggest, whatever powers you have, that you can exercise them and ask these private undertakers to do something which it is financially impossible for them to do. If an undertaker fails to give a supply of water adequate in quality and quantity, the undertaker's powers and functions can be transferred to the Minister, or to the county council, and the resultant expenses recovered from the defaulter. Does it really make sense? Again, let me give an example of a small undertaker who is probably quite efficient within his little area and as far as his financial resources are concerned. The Minister says, "I have power to make you do this, that and the other" and the undertaker says, "I am sorry but we have not the financial resources to do it." Is it logic? It is not, but it is in the Bill. It is one thing to take powers of this kind, and another to exert them against undertakers who may well lack the means to do what they should. The implementation of the policy depends not on the State but upon 836 hundreds of small organisations, many with resources too meagre to carry it out, however good their intentions.
That is one of the outstanding weak spots in the Bill. There is, of course, the Act providing £15,000,000 for rural water supplies, which we passed a little while ago. It was for both water and sewage, and therefore it is divided 50–50, and the only grant they have is £7,500,000. The Minister said once that 80 to 85 per cent. of the population had a tap water supply. Eighty to 85 per cent. of the population live in towns, and towns represent three-tenths of the area of England, Scotland and Wales. Seven-tenths of the areas are practically without any tap water supply at all. No wonder that the towns are congested. What is the use of talking about building houses in rural areas when there is no water supply and no drainage, and of insisting that they shall have baths when there is no water to put into them? I cannot conceive anything more vital to the health and well-being of the country than a proper drainage and water supply. There is this £15,000,000 and there is the need for a rural water supply. It does not touch the urban and semi-urban water services at all. I am not going to blame Ministers. They put forward these Bills from their Departments, and they are right in doing so, and I congratulate them on this great step forward. They have a very unenviable job in trying to open the purse strings of the Treasury in view of all its commitments. If they cannot open the purse strings to the extent that is needed, this becomes a Bill of good intentions, and you come back to doing something perhaps in the old tinkering, haphazard, slipshod manner and this so-called national water supply Measure is no more than a name.
After all, the people do not want plans and blue prints. They do not want good intentions. What they want is a water supply and they have wanted it all the time, and they do not seem to be able to get it. They do not want to have to travel miles for a bucket of water, and there is no reason for it. May I give an instance in which my right hon. and learned Friend ought to take powers? A sand and ballast company which had taken a contract to supply gravel to a local aerodrome for the Government dug a huge hole in order to get it. The water from the surrounding neighbourhood 837 came into the gravel pit and they had automatic electric pumps working for over 18 months pumping our water resources into the river. They dried up the area, and the foundations of buildings became unsafe. Some roads caved in. There was no law that made them responsible and people had to repair the damage caused by this firm wasting the very resources which my right hon. Friend says we ought to conserve. That has been going on in other parts of the country, and legal proceedings cannot be taken. I commend it to my right hon. and learned Friend and to the Minister of Agriculture to put it forward in the appropriate quarters, and to see that legislation is enacted laying it down that anyone doing wilful damage of this kind should be made responsible for it.
A water supply is as vital as sunshine and air but it is no use having a national water supply unless you have the financial and administrative means to make it real and effective. I can see the Minister and the county councils becoming burdened with these water undertakings which they will have to take over. Sooner or later, this financial issue will have to be faced. Why cannot they face it now? They admit that the need is vital. They have produced a Bill but they have not produced the wherewithal to do it. Why not? This is a National Government composed of all parties. There is no one who would object to a national scheme, which would be so beneficial to the health and well-being of the community. What is the use of teaching your children hygiene in the schools when they have to go back to such appalling conditions? It reminds me of people who live in unhealthy houses who are taken ill and are cured, at great expense, in hospitals and then go back to the same unhealthy conditions. Something ought to be done about it. All that we shall be doing without financial resources is to perpetuate these patchy, inadequate supply services.
The only way to tackle the problem is to divide the country into suitable water regions, each with its authority armed with adequate powers to develop and co-ordinate the services with appropriate State supervision, backing and credit. To try to deal with this through hundreds of small undertakers—I cannot see any large scale amalgamations under this scheme—and to threaten them with the big stick if they fail to do something 838 which may well be impossible is not a solution at all. I am glad that this comprehensive scheme has been brought in. I think it is a step in the right direction. It is a Bill of good intentions. I am doubtful, in spite of my congratulations, whether the Minister will ever obtain resources to carry them into effect. If he keeps pegging away he may get some help, and nobody would be more pleased than myself, after 14 years' agitation, if at last some step forward was made in the water supply of this country. If I achieve that, I shall have justified my sojourn in Parliament.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
Like the two previous speakers, I regard this as a Bill which could have been a really noteworthy Measure. Here was an opportunity for dealing with the problem on large-scale scientific lines, but the Bill before the House does not do that. I believe that it can be made a useful Bill. In my opinion, its back-bone wants strengthening. There is in it far too much "may" and not enough "shall," and it will certainly impose on many undertakings financial burdens which they have not the ability to perform, especially when they have to raise money at 6 per cent. On the other hand, I know how tenaciously local authorities and undertakings adhere to any powers they have. It may be that my right hon. and learned Friend has decided that it is better to hasten slowly, with a large measure of agreement, rather than push everything into the melting-pot in one grand comprehensive Bill which would be in danger of painlessly expiring as two earlier Bills have done.
We say to the Minister that we will support him in making progress, but we want a lot more back-bone in this Bill. We say to the Treasury, too, that we do not think that all this good work can be done on the amount of money provided. The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) referred to the earlier Bill, which was taken when I was not in the House, and pointed out that it dealt with the two questions of water and sewerage. I feel that this Bill should have running with it, a Bill to deal with main sewerage and drainage throughout the country. Nobody knows whether the proposed Central Advisory Water Committee will be a good or bad committee, and there is no provision in the Bill for it to report to Parlia- 839 ment. It would be a good thing to keep the Committee and the Minister on their toes by providing that it should report to Parliament. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will take care to see that on the joint advisory committees, the rural areas and the residential urban areas are adequately represented. There has been in the past a little tendency to excessive representation of the industrial heavy consuming areas. There is a peculiar point in Clause 3 providing that, although the members are to be appointed by the local authorities, the expenses of these committees are to be defrayed by the county councils and county boroughs.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health knows that Clause 14 interests me most, particularly in reference to the conservation of underground water supplies. The area which I represent is the water-bearing strata of Lincolnshire, and it is worth while spending a moment examining the position there, because it may help the House to imagine the position in other parts of the country. The limestone rock formations of Lincolnshire are the sources of the water supply of the large Peterborough area, and of the undertaking in my constituency run by Spalding urban district council. We are in competition for our water supplies with somebody who makes the most extravagant use of water. The hon. Member for Elland referred to water-bearing strata being cut into by the excavation of sand and gravel. We have something more to show for our wastage of water. We have watercress beds. What a lot of water it takes to grow a bunch of watercress! Here we have this great industrial population of Peterborough on the one hand, and the large rural area of 60,000 souls and 187,000 of the richest agricultural land in England on the other, and yet their supplies are being lowered because of the excessive wastage of water. Bores are still being sunk. One of them was sunk four-and-a-half inches in diameter 82 ft. deep, as recently as July. Another one with a six-inch bore was 181 feet deep. At another place there have also been 12 bore holes varying from five to eight inches and 120 feet deep, and five of them have pumps connected. From these and other untapped bores there is a good deal of wastage of water amounting to 7,000,000 and 840 10,000,000 gallons daily. One bore alone is wasting over 100,000 gallons an hour.
What is the result on the supplies of local undertakings? In 1894, when Spalding first put its bore down, there was a flow of 5,000,000 gallons a day. That has steadily declined, until it is now only 2,750,000. One bore, which is well known to the local inhabitants as St. Peter's Pool, which is just outside my constituency, used to flow at the rate of 1,750,000 gallons per day, but it is now completely dry. Yet this area of supply covers 187,000 acres of the best land in England, which is suitable for the most intensive horticultural development. I am satisfied that we shall have to support wholeheartedly my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, whose attendance at this Debate we greatly appreciate, in clearing up the position and preventing this excessive user of water. Clause 14, Sub-section (9) says that no person shall waste any water or abstract water in excess of his reasonable requirements. I find, however, that there is no reference to "waste" or "reasonable requirements" in the definition Clause. The man who grows watercress, who allows an enormous quantity to flow out of the bore holes to his beds, into the drains and on to the sea, considers that he is a reasonable user, but the local undertaking, which has to put in pumps in order to go lower to get their supplies, do not think that it is a reasonable user. I hope that much more strength will be put into this Clause. I know the difficulties. They are due to the old legal position of the past which enables the owner of land to have the right to extract what he will from it. That position cannot be permitted to continue much longer, and the passage of this Bill should see an end to it because we are not likely to have another comprehensive water Measure for a good many years. It would be wrong to conclude ones remarks without paying a tribute to the Minister for this Bill and, in particular, for the Third Schedule. I believe that that will be of enormous advantage to water undertakings large and small.
I would like to say how much I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) that the rate of interest of 6 per cent. is far too high. I approach the matter from a different angle. I believe that capital is 841 entitled to a proper return and that capital which is risked should receive a good return. If Government securities, such as Consols, are at 2½ per cent., and a secure sheltered undertaking like the supply of water will earn 6 per cent., what is the ordinary industrialist to offer to attract capital to his business in competitive undertakings? It means that the rates of competitive industry will have to be pushed on to the 10 and 12 per cent. basis. As we go through the Committee stage, let us see that, if Government securities are to remain cheap in future, we shall not have sums of money raised for water undertakings carrying so high a rate of interest as 6 per cent. I think that this is a good and useful Bill, but the Minister and those associated with him have been a little timid because of the fate of earlier Water Bills. If we assist them to put more strength into the Bill and turn some of the "mays" into "shalls," if we stop people wasting water and tighten the whole thing up, we shall do a useful work and the Minister will be pleased that he introduced the Bill.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
It is interesting to note that the last three speakers have been critical of the Bill. I welcome the Bill for what it is, but it makes only a small step in the direction in which we all wish to go. As the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) said, it is a mistake to refer to this Bill as giving us anything in the nature of a national water supply. It deals only with machinery, and that in a very ineffective way. The Minister pointed out that there were two dominating ideas behind the Bill. The first is that there is considerable chaos in legislation dealing with this matter. We naturally expect that after a century has elapsed since the last comprehensive Measure was introduced. Great changes have taken place in the industrial character of the country; particularly in the grouping of the population, and we are not surprised that the position now is very chaotic. The object of the Bill in the first place was, he said, to introduce some kind of order into this chaos.
The second point he made was that it was an attempt to assimilate the privileges and activities of the various authorities and public undertakings which are concerned with the supply of water. He pointed out that some of those private 842 undertakings which have got Bills through this House operate in quite a different way from those operating under the general Public Health Acts. The object of the Bill, he frankly said, is to assimilate the position of those undertakings. Up to that point I agree that the Bill is very desirable. Something of the kind was required, or would be required if we were in earnest about a national policy for water supplies. I sympathise very much with the Minister. Unfortunately he has had to bear rather an unusual burden in the last week or two. It is not long since he had to stand at that Box and defend, in every particular, what I am afraid are the many defects of our local authorities. Yet here we are trying to impose new burdens upon the authorities. The only suggestion contained in the Bill is that we should have joint authorities, but I feel very much, as the Home Secretary said when he was replying on that Debate, that one is inclined to get hot and bothered whenever we talk about joint authorities, because they are neither one thing nor the other. It is obvious that the Bill will require a number of authorities to carry it out, if we are to have an adequate water supply.
I only look upon the Bill as I have looked upon all Water Bills, and that is from the point of view of my own country. As is well known, we have plenty of water in Wales, and sometimes our grievance is that we have too much. We feel very keenly that there ought to be a careful and competent survey of water supply in Wales. Hitherto, great municipalities have been allowed—I do not grudge it at all—to put up expensive undertakings and to take our water supply outside our country. They have in a great many cases left the countryside entirely drained of the water that it formerly possessed. Big pipes carry water miles and miles away, while local authorities and people living on the line of the pipes have no opportunity of availing themselves of that water. I should like to know whether the Bill will give power to local authorities who require water to tap the pipes in their territory. It was very short-sighted of the local authorities not to realise what was being done. They now have no claim upon the water, although it passes their very doors.
There is another very serious question that we have to face, and it brings me 843 back again to the question of an adequate survey. Not only do we want water for domestic purposes, and for drinking, but there is great concern in all parts of Wales about the future supply of electricity to industry. One of the changes during the war has been the establishment of first-class industries in the rural parts of Wales. They are entirely dependent for their motive power upon electricity. It is a very difficult question, I admit, to decide whether to darn some of the valleys in order to provide drinking water for the community or to dam them to create electricity. I do not know any body which can carry out a survey except the competent Government Department. It is difficult to decide between the relative claims of industry for power and of the people who want water to drink. I am sorry that the Bill carries us only a very little way, but if the Minister proceeds to introduce a second Bill to make the first effective, we ought now to give the Bill a Second Reading on the understanding that the second Bill is forthcoming before very long.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)
I do not think it is incumbent upon anyone who rises in this House to follow the line of argument taken by his own Parliamentary representative, but I really must agree with what the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) has just said. As the Minister has observed, this is a big and intricate Bill, but speakers up to now have been dissatisfied with it, because they have said it does not go far enough. I thoroughly agree with them. It is true that the Bill sets out to conserve water supplies and, as the White Paper says, to provide wholesome water supplies. It recognises the necessity to supply water to homes, agriculture and industry. Those are all very desirable objects, but I can find nothing in the Bill which will stop some of the things which are now happening in this connection.
I would refer the Minister to the Question which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side (Mr. R. Duckworth) on 16th November, and which is reported in HANSARD. He asked the Minister of Healthwhether any Regulations exist to debar a person from sinking a water-well in any part of the country which he owns or occupies.844 The Minister replied:Local authorities and water companies must obtain either the authority of Parliament or my consent to the sinking of new wells, but other landowners have an unrestricted right to sink wells on their own land unless the right has been restricted by local Act of Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 2124.]I describe that as a Gilbertian situation. People who have to provide water must apply for permission, but private owners of land can go on sinking wells wherever they like. The result is that one man sinks a well and produces x gallons, and then another sinks a well a little deeper, and so the game of beggar-my-neighbour goes on. I hope some steps will be taken to restrict the sinking of wells by private enterprise.
I do not think that the Bill goes nearly far enough. The Minister is to be advised by an Advisory Committee but he does not say what the composition of that committee is to be. If it is to be a committee which has to make available adequate supplies of water, there is no quarrel with that, but what instruments are we to have which will ensure us those supplies of wholesome water? Up to date, I think I am right in saying there is no definition of "pure" or "wholesome" water. Those are very loose terms. My Member of Parliament on the other side of the House knows perfectly well that my water supply is occasionally polluted by streams coming from the filter beds of his local water company. He knows that if he comes to stay with me I can give him a chlorinated bath which smells quite strong, and chlorinated tea, which is not at all pleasant. This dangerous chemical, chlorine, is being put into the water today anywhere and everywhere, and it is not pleasant. In Toronto, where they really have to put it in, I remember how unpleasant it was.
I am living within a mile of one of the purest water supplies in Great Britain, yet each morning when I get into my bath I get this chlorinated product. It should not be left to any ordinary workman to put into our water a dangerous chemical like chlorine. If the Minister allows chlorine to be put in he should set some limit to the amount the water shall contain and provide trained chemical control to ensure it is not exceeded. Another point about this chlorination of water is that I believe it is the practice—I do not 845 want to bother the House with too many technical details—to put ammonia in first, and then to neutralise, or over-neutralise, it with chlorine. Has the Minister made any investigation into the effect of those chemicals on lead pipes or on brass taps? I am just old enough to remember the scandal about arsenic in beer and how it got in from the lead pipes. The Minister takes power in the Bill to regulate the quality of the taps, in order to prevent leakage; is he taking care that these brass taps, which notably contain arsenic, and the lead pipes as well, are suitably protected? This is not an unimportant point. We can pick up any vitamin pills we like and we shall find that they are said to contain traces of copper. We have done away with our copper utensils and we have gone on to the use of enamelled ware.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
Really, this is the Second Reading of a Bill for the supply of water, and I hardly think that the composition of enamelware or whether vitamin tablets contain copper or not is in Order. The hon. Member is getting a little wide of the Bill.
§ Mr. Wootton-Davies
I thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I must point out that enamelled goods are coated with glass or a sort of glass, and that glass is somewhat soluble in water. When I was a young chemist our difficulty was to find glass which was not gradually soluble in water. We had to conduct tests in order to find out how much glass was dissolved in boiling water, for example. I will endeavour to make my point, and please let me assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I do not want to transgress your Ruling. But there is this danger that we are using chlorine in lead pipes and brass taps. I do not wish to attempt to instruct the Minister's advisers, but I cannot help thinking that there is some gradual dissolving of these pipes and taps, and that might prove, in the long run, to be a very serious matter.
I have previously mentioned the haphazard sinking of wells, and under this Bill that is not stopped altogether. It allows wells to be sunk to a lesser depth than 50 feet. I suggest that such wells are a positive danger. They are merely tapping surface drainage most of the time. I would like the Minister to 846 say: "You shall not sink a well 50 feet in depth, but you may possibly sink it 200 feet, from the safety point of view." I think he should consider that point. In this Bill it is stated that water must he provided for agriculture, and, having mentioned lead, I wonder where all the sheep-dip which is used gets to. Does the House realise how much arsenic we use during the year to wash our sheep? In small doses arsenic is a good tonic, but like lead, it is a cumulative poison. I think this point should be watched, and that the Minister should take special powers to control the way in which sheep are dipped. I have a good idea that my sheep-dip goes into someone's water supply before it finishes its journey.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who was on the Front Bench a minute or two ago, represents Southport, which has one of the purest supplies of water, and I think one of the hardest supplies. In these days, when it is possible to supply this country with soft water, I suggest that the Minister should take powers to do that at the source, where it can be done very much better, and much more effectively and very much more cheaply than by individual softening apparatus. It is a simple thing to do. I see in the chemical journals advertisements of softening plants to provide water equal to distilled water. There is no reason why, in the present stage of science, this country should not have soft water. The waste by hard water is enormous. If the Minister gives the country soft water I know perfectly well some of my trade as a soapmaker must go, but I know that the cotton goods made in Lancashire will last longer. Hard water is a waster of soap and of textiles. There is one other point I desire to make. By and large, people in industry, at all events, sink wells for one purpose, which is to get water of a low and even temperature. I ask the Minister to consult his right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power and say: "We are not going to allow you to waste so much water in all those ugly cooling towers, etc. We intend to force you to use the latent heat from your great electric plants to do useful work." That is one suggestion to save water that I make to the Minister.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
I am sure we will all agree with the hon. Member 847 for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Wootton-Davies) that everything possible should be done to see that when public water supplies are chemically treated, it is done in a scientific manner. But I do not feel very happy about his suggestion that the Minister should, himself, take powers to supervise such an intricate and technical matter as that. Rather do I think we should see that public water authorities are organised on a sufficiently big scale to be able to employ thoroughly qualified chemists and supervisors. There must be many large authorities which chlorinate the water, without those who drink it knowing anything about it, but it needs constant supervision, and it cannot be done in a haphazard, rule-of-thumb manner.
I wish to join my views with those of other hon. Members who have found nothing specifically offensive in this Bill, and yet have some regrets that it does not go very far. There are powers in the Bill which could be used, if the will were there, to make considerable improvements in the water supply of this country. I want to know what exactly the Government mean to do with the powers that they are asking the House to grant to the Minister and to local authorities. There is very little indication, either in the White Paper or in the Bill, of the kind of pattern of water supply which the Government think is necessary if the present unsatisfactory position is to be remedied. The thing that strikes one most about the present situation is the patchwork nature of it. I have no criticism to offer with regard to the large and well-organised supplier of water, unless it be that there is a large amount of quite unnecessary and wasteful overlapping and competition between them for sources of supply. But at the other end of the scale, as other hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) have said, there are some shockingly bad water supplies in this country in the rural areas, and I think we should direct our attention to the two-fold problem of improving those that are bad and trying to rationalise the competition and overlapping that exist among the big authorities.
I wish to speak, therefore, of the collection and storage of water. That is where we have to start with this problem. There 848 is no shortage of water in this country, but we have these anomalies of competition for gathering-grounds, parallel valleys drawing off water for different authorities, their pipes running alongside each other, and big supply mains running through areas which are not supplied at all. We have to organise the collection and storage of water in large areas—much larger than those organised to-day. I think it is the physical facts of the situation which determine the size and shape of the area. I do not think it at all follows that the historical, political boundaries of counties will, of necessity, be the right boundaries for the planning of water resources. The size of a complete gathering ground, or the area of ground under which there is a certain geological formation—these are the things which must determine the right unit for the collection and storage of water. As far as the area of distribution is concerned, that must very largely be determined by the drainage area.
Another reason to which I have already referred, for large-scale organisation, is that the collection, storage and treatment of water before it is ready for consumption are a highly specialised jab, and authorities must be large if they are to have a sufficient number of specialists, men who are competent to design impounding reservoirs, men who are competent to supervise the installation of mechanical equipment, bacteriologists, chemists, and so on. These things cannot possibly be done by the small authorities, and if we are to have a wholesome water supply and to make the best use of the resources of the country, we must have a large-scale organisation for collection and storage. With the present pattern of local government the only way of doing that is by joint boards. They will be large joint boards. I think they must be made up of members of elected authorities. In the recent Debate on local government, an hon. Member mentioned the supply of water as being one of those impersonal things in regard to which joint boards are no disadvantage, and I believe it is to this type of organisation we must look. It may be that sometimes we will find one authority being a member of two different boards. For instance, I can think of one county borough in this country which draws part of its water supply from an underground sandstone formation, and part of its supply from a 849 joint board with a reservoir in other gathering grounds. It may be we shall have to be quite flexible in our conception of how these boards are to be arranged.
When we come to distribution, I do not think the advantage on the side of the big unit is of necessity very great. In an area which we are proposing should be a joint board unit there are several local authorities which have a perfectly good and sufficient organisation to distribute water. You may have, as, for instance, in the Bunter sandstone area of Nottinghamshire, several authorities each with its own supply organisation, each at the present time with its own wells. I believe that what we have to do there is to have a grouping together of the extraction of the water, and to leave the distribution in the hands of the local authorities where they are doing it efficiently; and where the distribution is not satisfactory, it could be undertaken directly by the big joint board or by another authority—the rural district council or the county council, for instance. It seems to me that there would be an advantage in having distribution in the hands of the smaller authorities, so that direct representation by the inhabitants of a village to their urban or rural councillors may lead to action very much more quickly than if the village which happened to be without water or had an unsatisfactory supply had to apply to a very big authority. It may be that what I have to say on the organisation of water supply would not meet with the approval of all hon. Members, but it is one way of solving this problem.
Does the Minister intend to use the powers in the Bill to build up a pattern of organisation along the lines I have described, and are the powers given in the Bill sufficient? Is it the intention that Clause 8 should enable local authorities to combine for the bulk supply of water without a merging of the whole organisation, including distribution? Clause 9, again, appears to give powers for the acquisition by local authorities of statutory undertakings. I believe that if we are to get any order out of the present chaos, there will have to be a very widespread acquisition by local authorities of privately-owned water undertakings. An hon. Member has already suggested that powers are given for statutory undertakings to be acquired but that there are 850 no powers to acquire privately-owned water supplies which are not statutory undertakings. I am sure that, if that is so, it is an oversight. In one village in my own constituency, where the inhabitants number about 100, there are three separate distinct water supplies, with their pipes criss-crossing down the village street and their charges differing very much indeed; and they still leave some houses without a supply. That village is within sight of ample water, as is the whole of the constituency that I represent.
I wish to see all these small and inefficient private water supplies bought up by the local authorities. The Minister should make provision so that if a local authority wants to buy up a privately-owned concern, whether statutory or not, the Minister's consent should not be unreasonably refused if the local authority is capable of running the undertaking. A logical outcome of much that has been said in this Debate is that we should recognise that water is a public service of the greatest importance, and that we should not any longer regard water as a commodity which is sold over the counter, for the time has come for the complete public ownership of all water supplies. I do not expect the present Government to insert such a provision in their Bill, but it should be made clear that where a local authority wants to acquire a supply it should be able to do so.
One of the most important provisions in the Bill—which is something which has been lacking in this country for years—is that the Government are to have the responsibility for surveying the water resources of the country. I do not think, however, that the survey will be of any use unless it results in positive planning. I want to see the joint advisory committees and the Central Advisory Committee regarding themselves in the main not just as recorders of information and collectors of statistics, but as the people charged with the duty of planning the way in which areas should be grouped and in which the large joint boards which I regard as necessary should be formed. I know they cannot do that until they collect the information, but they should at the earliest possible time produce a complete plan for the whole country, and that cannot be done unless there is some central body charged with this duty in a much bigger way than is the Central Advisory Committee. A National Water Board has been 851 advocated. I am not sure that that is the best way, but it is one way. Another way is to set up a Ministry of Water, as has been advocated by the British Waterworks Association. I am not suggesting that, but I believe that the minimum which is needed is a full department of the Ministry of Health, with a Parliamentary Secretary, charged solely with the responsibility for water supply.
This Bill will remain entirely a Bill of good intentions, unless the Government face the financial problem. I was amazed to hear the Minister open this Debate without referring once to the matter of finance. Where there is a poor water supply in the rural areas it is not because the people there do not know it, it is not because the people there do not wish to improve conditions; it is because the rates of the area cannot stand the expenditure which would be necessary to provide a supply. There is only one way of providing an adequate water supply to every house in this country, and that is by taking a nation-wide view of the financial problem, and spreading the cost, which will vary much from house to house, from county to county, over the whole nation—in other words, taking the supply of water off the local rates, and putting it completely on the national Exchequer. If the Government will do that, I believe we can achieve an adequate water supply for this country.
Some hon. Members may fear that having to rely on finance from Whitehall will mean that local freedom of action and responsibility will be gone. Under ideas which are current to-day, the provision for a local authority of more money from Government funds tends to carry with it more control and interference, but I submit that the central solution of the problem of having national planning and preventing stagnation and bureaucracy is to trust the people to spend the money. We cannot achieve a fluid system, with plenty of enterprise on the part of the local authorities, and couple with that national planning, unless we take risks. We have to take risks, it may be of waste, it may be of maladministration in a very few instances; but those risks are worth while, because the only alternative is to put up with the present patchwork system, under which the rich areas have a good water supply and the poor areas have a bad water supply, or else to have a national 852 scheme managed from the centre, which is bound to lead to stagnation and bureaucracy. If this country faces this problem, and says, "We are going to provide the resources which are necessary for a full and wholesome and constant water supply to every house where it can be brought," it must be done on this basis of national planning, national finance, and devolution of authority to local authorities.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
I am delighted with the Bill, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend upon it. Especially interesting to me are Clauses 6 and 7, which give the Minister, at long last, power to require records and information concerning the supply and use of water. It is good news that the Minister has not adopted the recommendation of the Milne Committee in this respect. Hon. Members will recall that the Milne Committee recommended that this information should be confidential, if the person who gave it so desired. I think that would have been a great mistake. It is of national importance that the fullest information regarding water should be available to the public generally, and especially to those experts who contribute to scientific and learned journals. There is a great deal yet to know about our water supplies; and the more people who have the basic data, the better. I hope that if there should be any attempt to return to the recommendation of the Milne Committee my right hon. and. learned Friend will stand firm on Clauses 6 and 7, as now drafted.
Clauses 29 and 30 are of the greatest importance to the rural householder. These Clauses, for the first time, give the local authorities power to compel the owner of a house to connect it with a supply of water in pipes, if the main pipe is reasonably near. I believe that all hon. Members will think that this is a necessary provision. But there is here a financial difficulty. I understand that if the occupier of the cottage is an agricultural worker the owner can get a grant of 50 per cent. towards the cost, under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, but if he is not an agricultural worker, but, let us say, a county council roadman or some such kind of worker, no grant is available. I believe that there is a simple way of overcoming this difficulty. That is that, when the new Rural Workers' Housing Bill comes before the 853 House, the limit of £50, which is at present imposed on the cost of reconditioning if a grant is to be obtained, should be abolished, at least in respect of the payment for the connection of main supplies with the cottages. It will be a great disappointment to the villagers if, in fact, the water does not come to them, or only goes to the houses of men who happen to be agricultural workers, and not to any others.
I was rather astonishel to hear the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) complain that there were no powers in this Bill to enable the Minister to do what he wants in the way of compelling a pattern of water undertakings most suitable to the national interest. The hon. Member was obviously making a theoretical speech for nationalisation. The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) was not, if I may say so, quite so far off the mark. He admitted that there were the powers in the Bill, but said he did not think the Minister would use them. All over the Bill there are powers quite sufficient to do anything that any hon. Member might want to be done to compel undertakings to amalgamate, to supply in bulk, or generally to improve their systems. If hon. Members want water quickly, and not just a scheme planned according to some political theory, they had much better allow the Minister to use the powers in harnessing the good and bad companies—and there are many good ones as well as bad—which will be a much quicker way to improve the supply of water to the people than by upsetting the whole business and attempting an enormous legal campaign to nationalise all undertakings. Therefore, I consider that, if only on the grounds of efficiency and the question of getting the water to the people quickly, the approach made in this Bill is the right one.
The hon. Member for Skipton suggested that we should take all water off the rates and put it on to the taxes. That, I think, would upset local authorities very much, and, indeed, the differences between one area of the country and another are so great that it is far better to use the experience of the various district councils, as the hon. Member himself said in another part of his speech.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson
I want to use the experience of the present undertakings, so far as supply is concerned, but I say 854 that the only way to sweep away financial trouble is to pool finance over the whole nation, and leave power to do the job of supplying water in the hands of local people.
§ Mr. Eccles
I am one of those who believe that, unless a local authority is raising part of the money it is spending, it loses its independence and its responsibility. I would like to put this to the Minister. Is it not a fact that the carrying-out of this new water policy, which is so much wanted in the country, really depends on the quality and supply of technical staff available to his own Ministry, to the local authorities and to the undertakers? It is quite clear that, at the present time, this staff is not adequate for the job by a very long way, either the consulting staff, or the engineering staff or the draftsmen. This is an engineer's war, and there are in the Services an enormous number of men who have had great experience of this kind in servicing the Army, and I would ask the Minister to take steps to let these engineers in the Army know something of the scope of the technical employment which is going to be offered by this water policy. I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend to try to let them know as soon as possible the opportunities that will come, and to try to pick out the good men and earmark them, and ask the local authorities to do the same. Unless we have a very big increase in technicians and engineers, we shall not solve quickly this water problem, the framework of which is so well presented in this Bill.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
I am sure the Minister is well satisfied with the reception this Bill has received up to the present, as compared with the somewhat stormy passage that the Water Undertakings Bill had in 1943. I would like to make some comments about this Bill in what I hope will be a helpful way, but may I first put in a personal word? As the Minister knows, I am a member of the Metropolitan Water Board and, in fact, chairman of its Parliamentary Committee. The Metropolitan Water Board is, as my right hon. and learned Friend knows, a democratically-elected body which carries out its business in a proper democratic fashion. There has not been time, since the publication of the Bill, for the Board to discuss the 855 Bill and arrive at a proper decision. As the Minister also knows, previous Water Bills in this House have deliberately excluded the Metropolitan Water Board, but, in this Bill, the Board is included. Therefore, in anything I say here to-day, I am not authorised in any way to speak on behalf of the Metropolitan Water Board. But I speak purely in a private capacity as a Member of the House. I hope the Minister will understand that I am not committing the Board in anything I say, although I have no reason to think that any member of the Board would differ to any large extent from the view which I propose to express.
I think the Metropolitan Water Board which is charged with the duty of supplying Greater London with an adequate supply of pure and wholesome water, has carried out its duties efficiently and well, and more especially during the war years. The time has not yet come to tell the story of how London's water supply was maintained during the period of the war, and particularly during what were very acute stages of the war so far as London is concerned. But, when the time does come to tell the story, I think it will be regarded as one of the really thrilling stories of the war. It cannot be told yet, for obvious reasons.
The Bill, in my opinion, is a useful and important step forward, and I hasten to add, what a number of hon. Members have already said, that its success will largely depend upon the tempo of its operation and the speed with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is able to put its provisions into active operation. I agree, as the last speaker has said, that there may be a serious difficulty in obtaining sufficient technical people to do the technical work. I think I am not far wrong in suggesting that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to add a good many technical people to his own Department in order to carry out the work that this Bill will create. There has been, and there is, much talk going on throughout the country in all directions and in the Press and Parliament, about great post-war changes. People are talking daily about building garden cities, wonderfully laid-out, of creating new towns and of building great blocks of fiats, with lifts to carry people up several storeys. But a good many of these amateur planners, at least, are not giving 856 much thought to the fact that these projected garden cities will be rather poor and sad places, if there is not an adequate water supply. I notice that the planners insist upon lifts in the blocks of flats, but never seem to tackle the fact that there is going to be a considerable problem for the water authority in the district to ensure sufficient pressure to get the water to the top of these skyscrapers. Unless they do so, these will not be "luxury flats" in any sense of the term.
In addition, masses of people may probably have to be moved to new areas as a result of what has happened during the war. Therefore, it is essential, with regard to these proposed changes, such as the building of garden cities and the moving of vast masses of population to new towns, that the people who have the responsibility of supplying water in those areas, shall know, as soon as possible, what is proposed in order that they can make their plans. There is much talk of the rapidity with which prefabricated houses can be put up, but a prefabricated house will be a poor place to live in if there is not any water supply, and you cannot, by a stroke of the pen, say, "We will put houses here," and expect the local water undertakers to lay water on in a short space of time. These water undertakers should know as soon as possible what their responsibilities are.
I welcome the Bill because it gives some measure of national control. It seems to me to be a courageous attempt to look at the whole problem. The Minister made a passing reference to another Bill which he has promised and which is called the Rivers Bill. If I followed the right hon. and learned Gentleman correctly, he said it was hoped to introduce that Bill in the present Session.
§ Mr. Willink indicated assent.
§ Mr. Morrison
It would be very helpful to those interested in the provisions of this Bill if, some time before the end of the Committee stage of the present Bill, the Rivers Bill were to be printed, so that we could get the whole picture in our minds and see how these two Bills will fit into each other. It is popular, in some quarters, to sneer at planning of all kinds. One of our newspapers is sneering almost every day at the planners. I suggest that only an idiot would oppose the planning of the country's water resources. I note that the Minister is to set up an Advisory 857 Committee. I hope that, in setting it up, he will consider a better representation for the water undertakers than there has been on the Advisory Committee which he has had up to now. Out of that committee of 16, I think I am right in saying that the water undertakers have had only three representatives, and, while there may have been one or two others, who are representatives of local authorities which are also water undertakers, the number of direct representatives of water undertakings upon that Advisory Committee has only been three out of 16.
I hope the Minister will look into that, to see if their importance does not warrant their being rather more fully represented on the Central Advisory Committee which the right hon. and learned Gentleman proposes to set up. Needless to say, the Minister agrees that some use should be made of the Advisory Committee which has been operating up to now. The Joint Advisory Water Committees, under the Bill, are to have their chairmen appointed by the Minister. I would like to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether, unless some very good reason against it is shown later, he will consider leaving it to the Committee to appoint their own chairman. There is a suggestion that what the Minister is after is that the chairmen of the joint Advisory Water Committees should be representatives of the Ministry, so that the Minister would keep the matter under his care. He might consider whether it is necessary to insist that he shall appoint the chairmen of these committees. It would be more democratic to let them elect their own chairmen.
With regard to amalgamations, there are about 1,100 statutory water companies in the country, and, roughly, another 1,100 non-statutory undertakings, making a total of 2,200 water undertakings altogether. Every hon. Member will agree that it is ridiculous that, in this small island, there should be 2,200 water undertakings. Obviously, as the Minister admits, there are room and urgency for many amalgamations. Many speakers have mentioned that larger areas are needed. I need not remind the Minister that in considering this matter he will be faced with an almost immediate difficulty. A number of water undertakings are coming to this House this Session with Private Bills. I do not 858 know whether he proposes to stand aloof and allow these Bills, which will come before us in the next week or two, to go through the House as ordinary Private Bills without taking any action with regard to them. This Bill gives the Minister the power to try and secure amalgamations where it can be shown they are for the greater good of the public and the efficiency of the water supply, and a rather difficult situation will arise if in the meantime certain private companies are proceeding to get further powers from Parliament. The House of Commons will expect, in the light of this Bill, that when these Private Bills come before it, the Minister will be in a position to adopt some fairly definite attitude with regard to them. One hon. Member referred to the need for local authorities having a greater say on the question of larger areas. One cannot deal satisfactorily with water problems on a geographical basis; it has to be done on a geological basis.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, but in any case the geological basis is much more important than the geographical.
§ Mr. Morrison
There was a case recently where an important county council sent a resolution to the Minister asking that all the water supplies should be put under one undertaking in the county. That would be impossible to carry out unless the Minister gave the water authority concerned an opportunity to go much further afield to the sources of the water. It is all very well to make a decision for another 2,000,000 people to be supplied with a regular and wholesome supply of water, but if water undertakers have to do that they must be given the power to go sufficiently far afield to get the water. Not enough importance has been attached in the past to the geological basis.
I welcome Clauses 6, 7 and 13 of the Bill, because they are much overdue, and it is a pleasure to see that at last someone is going to control supplies. I will not inflict on the House a further speech about this, except to say that in a part of London we are in a very difficult position. One hon. Member spoke about the trouble in Wales where water is more than 50 feet underground. As the law stands anybody 859 can sink a well and take out as much water as he likes provided he does not sell it to anybody else, and in the post-war planning of new factories, one of the first propositions will be the sinking of a well. If anybody is allowed to sink a well in the post-war world, it will be a question of rushing into immediate disaster as far as the underground water supplies of London are concerned. The underground water in the chalk of London has been falling at the rate of five feet a year during the past 20 years, and is now 100 feet below what it was 20 years ago. If the system under which anyone can sink a well and take water is continued, and it is nobody's business to keep records of how much water is taken, I suggest that the Minister might tighten up the Bill a little in regard to disused wells. Such has been the unfortunate state of the law that a person can sink a well and make use of it as long as it suits him and then can go away and leave it, with all the slime running back into the underground water. It becomes nobody's business. I ask the Minister whether between now and the Report stage he could not consider making it obligatory for disused wells to be properly sealed off and made safe.
There are many other Committee points but I will not deal with them now; I only want to ask a simple question. What is the next stage of this Bill going to be? There are three alternatives. There could be a Committee stage on the Floor of the House, which would be most undesirable. This is a fairly big Bill with a lot of technical points to be gone into. It is not a popular Bill from the point of view of headlines in the newspapers and there are no party politics in it. It is a very useful Bill but it is not a Bill requiring discussion in detail by a Committee of the whole House. The second alternative is to send it to a Committee upstairs such as we had before the war, and if rumour is correct, the Government intend to resume Standing Committees upstairs. I wish the Minister to consider a third alternative. A Bill of this kind might be most efficiently dealt with on Committee stage by a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. The Minister will find that Bills of a similar character have been sent to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons, with very good results. By that means the Bill 860 would get through the Committee stage in both Houses at the same time, and it would be a good opportunity for discussing the many and highly technical points which will arise. I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he should use such influence as he has with the powers that be to see that the Committee stage is not taken on the Floor of the House.
My final point is that I would like to see a provision in the Bill that it should be an obligation on the Minister of Health to make an annual report to Parliament upon the water resources of the country, and I am reminded that in the new Education Act there is an obligation laid upon the Minister of Education to make an annual report. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) referred to the need for the public being much better advised with regard to the water supplies of the country, and I agree with him. The ordinary person thinks that all you have to do when you want water is to turn on the tap. He has not the slightest knowledge of how the water comes through the tap and he kicks up a row if he turns on the tap and there is no water. An annual report would afford an opportunity for Parliament, which I do not think would be abused, to have a discussion on water supplies and the progress that was being made towards a more satisfactory state of affairs. The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) said that the British Waterworks Association have put forward a suggestion that there should be a Minister for Water. I am not following that suggestion, because there is a tendency already to have too many Ministers, but it is well worth considering whether the Ministry of Health should not have an additional Parliamentary Secretary who would deal with water problems. Several Departments of less importance have two Parliamentary Secretaries. I finish as I began by saying that the Bill represents a useful step forward, but its success will depend largely on the keenness and energy with which its provisions are put into force.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I do not think that the Minister has had a good day. The only two speeches that have been anything like favourable are the last two, and I would not even describe the last speech as enthusiastic. 861 He welcomed the Bill, said the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison), because it was a step forward, but all the other speeches were extremely critical, beginning with that of the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden), who said that any step forward was good but that this was not the kind of Bill we expected or that the country needed. He was followed by the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), who has made a study of this question and has been urging its importance upon this House ever since he became a Member. He said it was feeble, weak, leaving the position still chaotic. That is not quite how one would expect a Bill to be greeted if it really carried out the wishes of the people. Although this is a matter which concerns the health of the country, and every household in the country, the House has been practically empty all day, even when the Minister was speaking. That is an extraordinary state of things, but I think the key to it is in a phrase which was used by the Minister, and picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol, namely, "I present this Bill to the House and the country with a minimum of changes." That is it—there is "a minimum of changes." The Minister knows the chaotic state of things, he knows the cry there has come from parish after parish about their conditions, and he says: "I will produce a Bill of 104 pages, with long Schedules, but, please, the minimum of changes."
Let me take up another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol. The first Clause begins with a "shall" but afterwards, as one looks through the Clauses, it is "may," "may," "may," "may." It is a Bill of "mays." I emphasise that for this reason, The Minister very rightly gave us a short history of the water legislation of this country, beginning with the Buccleuch Report of 1842, going on to the Act which was passed in the forties, coming on to the Public Health Acts of 1872 and 1875, and then on to the various local authorities. Powers have been given to local authorities time and again by this House, and how have they exercised them? Where they are wealthy, where they are progressive in their ideas, where they have plenty of money to draw upon, they come down to this House, like Birmingham and Liverpool and Manchester have done, and getting the full power 862 of the national Exchequer behind them in order to carry out a purely local scheme, and those who are outside the locality have had to suffer.
What is wanted by everyone? Pure water in the house in sufficient quantities for the needs of that house. When we were discussing local government last week the right hon. and learned Gentleman made a plea that I have so often heard made by so many of us on this side of the House, that women should take a keener interest in local affairs, that all these local matters affect the women more than the men and they are in a position to describe the conditions better than the men. Quite right. We have all been saying that. We have all been saying how little the man knows, because he leaves early in the morning and comes home late at night, of the troubles of the woman all day in keeping the house and her family clean and preparing the food for his return. Fortunately, some inquiries have been made. I myself made an inquiry into all these matters, particularly water, and, following upon water, milk throughout Wales, as I have already told the House, in 1937 and 1938. I was assisted by one of the most eminent medical men in this country. We described what we saw and what we heard, and I repeated some portion of that to the House the other day. It drew protests from the other side of the House, and it was suggested that I had no right to say that the conditions I found in Wales I would have found also in England. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) and the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) protested.
I did not then know that the women of this country, who are well organised, had themselves conducted an inquiry in 3,500 parishes, and I do not think sufficient attention has been paid to what they have said. This was an inquiry into the conditions prevailing in their local districts, and they used language to describe the conditions they found which is stronger even than the strongest language I could have used about the conditions in Wales. The women very rightly associate three things for the proper running of the house—water, sewerage, electricity. If the Government are introducing a national scheme why do they not introduce one that covers all three things? We all know that pressure is often brought to bear for the pro- 863 duction of electricity from the coal mines, but I should have thought that the Government could have worked the reservoirs for the supply of water in conjunction with the provision of electricity, at least to assist the electricity on the grid in that particular district. It is being done in North Wales. We have coal in just one small area, but the bulk of the electricity in North Wales is supplied from reservoirs, and I should have thought the right thing to do was to have a national survey. The hon. Member for North Tottenham said it depended upon geological reasons; the hon. Member for Elland more correctly said that it depended upon geography and geology together. Why not have a complete survey of the country, see what water there is, and then see how best it can be used for the benefit of everybody concerned? There is nothing about that in this Bill. I have observed in other Bills introduced by this composite Government, that they use the word "national" but they do not mean it. In introducing the Education Act they said, "We want a national system of education," but they made permanent the un-national system of education. Clause I begins:It shall be the duty of the Minister of Health to promote the conservation and proper use of water resources and the provision of water supplies in England and Wales and to secure the effective execution by water undertakers, under his control and direction, of a national policy relating to water.This is nothing more than an undertakers' and local authorities' policy. Where is the national policy? Nowhere except in that very first Clause.
Now may I go back to the inquiry made by the women? In June, 1943, the British Federation of Women's Institutes passed this resolution:This meeting is of opinion that the three main services—water, sewerage, and electricity—should be a national responsibility, and that it should be possible to compel local authorities to take necessary action to ensure that adequate provision is made in the country as well as in the town."National responsibility." "Compulsion." May I point out that the Minister and his predecessors had either direct compulsory powers or indirect compulsory powers since 1884 or 1885. The Federation asked various institutes to make inquiries. A questionnaire was dis- 864 tributed, and replies were received from all the English counties, and all but four of the Welsh counties. What did they find?In Oxfordshire 19 per cent. of the houses investigated share pumps. Twelve per cent. carry their water more than 200 feet. Yet country people are willing to undertake this laborious piece of work because they hope that by exposing the primitive conditions in which country people have to live and work some improvements might be introduced, not just promises. …They hope that improvements may be introduced, and not just promised. The hon. Member for Elland said that this Bill was a Bill of good intentions. The Report goes on:They want actual drain pipes, taps, sinks and baths. Many wonder how far the proposed £15,000,000 grant will meet this demand.The House will remember that last year a great show was made of the fact that in 1934, in order to help the poorer areas, we made a grant of £1,000,000. That stirred up the rural districts to spend another £6,000,000. The Government said, "We will give you £15,000,000." The House did not understand—certainly, I did not—that not a penny of that is to come from the Treasury until after the war. The matter was brought before us as one of urgency. I only found out that this was the case, because of a local instance which came to my knowledge, concerning what is really a rural area although it is a borough. The penny rate there brings in only £18, and there is about one person to every nine acres. In order to get a pure water supply they undertook work which has cost them £5,000 and, all told, will cost them £13,000. When I asked the Ministry to give a grant they said, "Not until after the war."
§ Mr. Davies
This town is faced with the alternative that the water there contains so much bacillus coli that the Ministry would not dream of accepting it and they have to go on drinking the impure water, or face bankruptcy. Then the Government talk about a national policy. The report states:There was very little resignation about the answers. Very few members felt that what was good enough for their fathers was good 865 enough for them. Broadhembury (Devon) writes, 'The lack of convenience which has been endured by the older people will not be tolerated by the present generation.' Cookhill (Worcestershire) feels that, 'The population is likely to drift until the amenities of water and drainage are made available. So many have already done so.' It is estimated that 80 per cent. of Cookhill's population have earth closets or buckets.No wonder that people of the countryside are leaving, and that from my country 500 go every year because of the lack of amenities and the decencies to enable them to live properly. The report goes on:The sense of shame is stressed many times. The majority are intensely ashamed of ditches reeking with the overflow from unemptied cesspits and of fields and gardens used as sewage dumps.It goes on:Frampton (Dorset) has 50 out of its 172 houses with bucket lavatories only. It writes, 'Existing conditions are a disgrace to England.' Out of Bangor's 84 houses, 45 have earth closets and householders have to fetch their water from a distance of more than 200 feet. In Cerne Abbas (Dorset), 'Sanitation is deplorable and not much improved since Tudor days.' Most village women are hotly discontented. A number of Institutes report that contaminated wells are still being used daily. Upham (Hants) has no main water or drainage, and five out of seven wells were condemned five years ago. In Clee St. Margaret (Salop) all 56 householders have to carry their water more than 200 feet. The well for drinking-water has no cover, the pump is broken, and pails have to be dipped in. The water is frequently polluted and the matter has been reported to the M.O.H.I have seen dozens of medical officers' reports condemning water supplies year after year, yet nothing has been done.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is it not the case that in many of these areas all this is due to the fact that they are under the control of Tory squires?
§ Mr. Davies
I do not know the politics of any of these places. When I conducted an inquiry throughout Wales, in no single place was the word "landlord" used. But the people knew what powers their local authority had, and knew that their local authority had failed them. They knew that they should have provided sewerage and water, but that they had not done so. The report continues:The majority of women would rather have water laid on than any other modern laboursaving device. Farley Hill has paid a water rate for years. It has no main water or drainage.866 What it is paying a rate for when it is getting neither water nor drainage I do not know. The report goes on to deal with sewerage, and says:All the sewage at Wickham (Hants), which has 399 households, is emptied into the river. It is an abomination to civilisation.Those are stronger words than I used about the inquiry into conditions into Wales. We have seen houses erected shortly before the war which had no proper lavatory accommodation. I knew that when going through Wales, I should find conditions which were not confined to my own country. I knew that they would be the same elsewhere. Local authorities had power to deal with these matters, but did not deal with them. There is no more sanction in this Bill than there was in the previous Bill to compel attention to these matters.
This, to a large extent, is a re-enactment Bill, with a little more power taken here and there. What really ought to have been done? Again, take an instance from my country. I have said that there ought to be a complete survey recording the geographical and geological situation. Then have reservoirs constructed and provide whatever is required for the complete area. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Tottenham called attention to Bills going through the House. A short while ago three Bills were introduced, one for Anglesey, with a penny rate of £700, having to undertake for its water supply a cost of £500,000, and no provision whatever made for disposing of sewage. What steps are the Government going to take to deal with a situation like that? The right thing to do was to take a survey of the whole of North Wales. Anglesey is a flat island, with only two hills at the far end. The hills are in Carnarvonshire, where there are any number of lakes and valleys. The right thing to do was to take a survey, and see where you could put your best reservoirs for the supply of Carnarvonshire and Anglesey, and possibly there would have been a sufficient drop to give also electric power for Anglesey and Carnarvon. Then, one would have been talking about a national policy.
Finally, what are the Government going to do about finance? All the time this question is being postponed. All the time new burdens are being placed on local authorities. Yesterday we were discuss- 867 ing the education burden. Here is a new burden which is to be placed on them. Something else has to be done. How are we going to carry these matters out? One of two things will happen. We will completely bankrupt the countryside by having such a burdensome rate which, instead of attracting industry, will drive it back into areas already overcrowded, or we shall neglect to carry out the very duty we are expected to carry out. That is an impossible situation in which to put us. Go in for national policies. Cover the whole field. You have a national field for the war. You call on men and girls for the war. Let us have one scheme giving us all an equal start and equal amenities, and do not place too great a burden on us. One hon. Member suggested that all the burden should be placed on the Exchequer. I have suggested it myself and the answer was often made, "If you do that, you weaken local responsibility." I do not think so. In all these cases the rate should be limited to a certain amount. Whatever the cost may be, we can say, "There is the burden which will fall on the locality." All the rest must fall on the State as a whole, in order that we may have equal treatment and an equal burden. I ask the Government to withdraw this kind of Bill. They have had plenty of time to think out a real scheme, and it is time we had it before us.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Major York (Ripon)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has, on many occasions, taken it on himself strongly to criticise Measures which have been brought forward by the Government and of the many speeches to which I have listened with interest, I have never known him make an attack as unfair as that which he has just made. He quoted examples from recent private legislation. I should have thought it was just those cases which the Bill is designed to meet. It is in just the type of case produced by the Anglesey County Council that the Bill is designed to allow the Minister to step in and create these joint boards and advisory councils so that this isolated scheming and isolated planning shall not occur in the future.
§ Mr. C. Davies
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that there was already power to form these joint boards?
§ Major York
The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer and he will know that there are two interpretations upon every piece of law. As far as I am aware, the present Bill is a co-ordinator. There was no co-ordination before. It is, to use the word that the Minister used to-day, to integrate the various powers under central direction that the Bill has been produced, and I believe it is in those words that we shall attain the success which the Minister showed he intended to attain. I take a completely opposite view. I believe this to be a very important Bill and a large step forward. I believe that, whereas it has been regarded in the past as the right of every urban citizen to have a supply of water, under this Bill it is to be the right of every rural citizen to have a supply of water, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will make that point adequately clear. There are many other good points. There is one in particular which we in country districts put a good deal of hope in, and that is the position that, if a dwelling-house, or a farm, or even a small factory, is in an area of one supply company, there shall be no difficulty in drawing water from a different supply company if it is more convenient and easier. We have often had to wait years for water to be brought to a certain house, because it was just on the boundary of one water undertaking, which was either unwilling or unable to obtain powers to bring the water there.
While I entirely commend the Bill, I have one or two small suggestions to make. One is in regard to the way in which water borers are to keep records. Water borers are almost a law unto themselves. They are men of exceptional experience, and their experience is entirely practical. The great point which has to be borne in mind by the borer, and which is of use to the authority afterwards in knowing the geological data, is the feel of the drill going down. I do not believe that a journal will be the best way in which the borer's experience can be put into the records of the survey. I believe it will be necessary for an inspector from the Ministry to inspect every important bore hole, and talk personally to the water borer, for in that way he will get a far clearer picture than the borer can give by writing down cold words in a journal. The next point is in regard to new water works. We all know that in many parts of the country dams, aqueducts and other 869 waterworks, including small pumping stations, can be an eyesore, whereas they could make a great improvement to the beauty of the valleys or areas in which they are situated. I hope that when any of these works are contemplated, the local planning authorities and others connected with town and country planning will be consulted and their advice given full weight.
I want to issue a warning on the subject of Clause 7. We are not short of water itself, but we are short of the facilities for bringing it to the people. That particularly applies to the country. This Clause holds out great hopes to the farming community in particular that they will have an unending and plentiful supply of water in the near future. I do not believe that that is a possibility for two reasons. The first is that we are now short of water for ordinary domestic purposes, and it will take a long time before we have adequate equipment and can make adequate arrangements for collection in order to fulfil all domestic requirements. It will therefore be a long time before we have sufficient equipment, pipes and so on, to make our farm fields, buildings and so on adequately supplied. Another point in regard to rural areas is drainage. We shall have a great deal of extra water flowing down the field dykes from the villages. In my own village, despite what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery has said, we have already practically approved our post-war sewage and water schemes, anti I am content to wait for the end of the war with Germany to see that scheme started. I do not think the Minister has any reason to be ashamed of that necessary wait.
With the extra water which will be coming out of the villages, some thought should be given to the people who pay the drainage rates. At the present time they are those who own or occupy land or buildings eight feet above a certain water level. With the advent of this new and increased water supply, there will be a great deal more water to deal with, and the drainage rate should be spread over the entire rural population in the same way as the general rate.
The only point upon which I agree with the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) is that there is an overlapping of authorities and of Ministries. I hope that this question will be reviewed, 870 because at the moment the Minister of Agriculture can be held responsible for the production of water, although, I admit, he has some great help from other sources. The Minister of Health deals with the collection, storage and distribution, and, to a certain degree, with purification. Then the Minister of Agriculture steps in and has to get rid of the water. It will be seen that on every occasion when the direction of the water is changed from its source through the human body or the machine, until it goes back to nature and into the sea, different Ministers are handing it over to other Ministers. Water is a most complex subject—in its origin, in its distribution and in its disposal—and I believe that the suggestion of one hon. Member that there should be a separate Parliamentary Secretary dealing with it in all its phases would commend itself to the House and would improve the efficiency of the organisation of water. The joint advisory committees are to cover a large number of aspects of water. We understand from Clause 15 that the recommendation of the White Paper on rivers boards has been accepted and rivers boards are to be set up. May I commend to my right hon. and learned Friend the suggestion that the Advisory Committee on Water set up under this Bill should conform closely to the area, and possibly even to the personnel, of the future rivers board? I commend my right hon. and learned Friend for having produced this Bill. Let me urge him to see that there is no delay in using the fresh powers, which I am certain the House will give him.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major York) that an important aspect of this problem will be to deal with the question of the catchment boards and to sort out the difficulties of rating responsibility between what are called the uplands and the lowlands. This greatly affects the agricultural community, not only from the point of view of the disposal of water, but from that of the supply of water laid on to the actual farms. I join with him in hoping that, as a result of the various Debates we have had upon the question, we shall at last have the problem dealt with on a comprehensive basis. A great number of hon. Members have taken considerable interest in this problem, particularly my hon. 871 Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), who has been a faithful plodder in favour of a national supply of water. The hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Chorlton), who is not here today owing to illness, has also taken a great interest in it and has made valuable contributions to the discussions in the House and with ideas submitted to the Minister. One hon. Gentleman referred to the question of training technicians and made a valuable suggestion when he said he thought it would be wise if some sort of information were given to the Forces of the requirements under the various schemes of amenities and social reform, so that they may begin some vocational training. In that way we could ensure having an adequate number of technicians available when the time comes to put the schemes into effect.
Everyone has emphasised that local authorities are unable to go ahead with their housing schemes unless they know what is in the Government's mind with regard to grants and assistance on piped water supply. I am sure that the Minister must have received a large number of resolutions and requests from local authorities asking for information as to what help they may expect from the Government before they plan their housing and post-war schemes. This is the second Bill we have had on water supply. We had one in 1944 attempting to deal with rural water supplies, and now we have this more general Measure. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has delivered a considerable attack upon the Minister and the Government for failing to produce a more comprehensive scheme.
The Government must admit that the Bill, almost to the same extent as the previous Bill, has received a lukewarm reception. It may be that those who have read the Bill carefully are unable to comprehend exactly what it means in the process of co-ordination, but we certainly cannot be blamed for that. When introducing the Bill the right hon. and learned Gentleman made, I thought, an apologia for it rather than extolling its virtues. I hope that when the right hon. Lady replies she will answer some of the points which have been raised, so that hon. Members can get a clear idea of what the Bill really means.
I suppose this is also one of the largest Bills we have had to consider, but it 872 would need a great deal of scrutiny, in fact something like water divining, to find the immediate supplies of fresh water for the rural areas that are promised by the Bill. On almost every page occurs the word "may" in such phrases as "the Minister may" instead of administrative action. The result of all this is that we are to have more general committees and commissions and more advisory committees. We are going to pass more responsibility on to the local authorities for the initiation of schemes. I say that this country at the present time is getting rather badly littered with committees and commissions of one sort or another. You cannot get water supplies from committees or commissions. I prophesy that there will be trouble from local authorities. I imagine that some of them will go on strike soon if we go on "passing the buck" and transferring to them matters which should be within the responsibility and initiative of this House.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that this is not the Bill we hoped for. I ask the Government to withdraw it and to introduce a comprehensive Bill of planning which will enable them to co-ordinate the various services for rural amenities. The right hon. Lady must know, in her capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to tile Ministry of Health, that what we need in such rural areas as we have in Suffolk and East Anglia is revolutionary change in these matters if anything is going to be done. I made a maiden speech in this House 15 years ago asking for a supply of water to the rural areas. One Government after another have toyed with the problem, and no one has introduced legislation which would give me confidence that the people, who live in such awful conditions, are at last to have a reasonable water supply.
Many references have been made to the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the report which they have prepared, and many compliments have been paid to them on the detailed nature and the excellence of the report. I would refer only to the very last paragraph, in which a reference is made to a village in my constituency. It says:Thorndon has 100 houses. There are only three pumps in the village, and nearly all the inhabitants have to fetch their water more than 200 feet. Most of them have earth closets, a few share closets. They would be willing to pay 6d. a week extra for main water 873 and 6d. a week extra for main drainage. Their only comment is terse and inequiyocal: 'Make haste, and get these into operation'.Running through the report from beginning to end is this note of urgency. I gave the Minister a case of a village in my constituency quite recently, the village of Mendlesham, where as in scores and hundreds of similar parishes there is no water supply of any sort or kind for the schools; where at some public functions they have been forced to drink the drainings of the roof of the local public convenience and where the sewerage conditions are so bad that there is constant danger of pollution and epidemics in the schools. In the Bill, and in all the other Measures which ale Government have introduced to deal with the problem of rural reform, there is no hope that these conditions will be ended even within the lifetime of the members of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, who have taken such a great interest in the problem. It is the urgency of all this to which I would like the right hon. Lady to give her attention. These areas have been described as "darkest England" and "driest England"—the areas of flood and drought. I must agree with the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden), who has given such a great deal of time and study to the problem, and I cannot see that we shall really deal with this problem unless we plan and produce a national water system in this country.
We have discussed in this House what is to take place after the war in local government. The regional commissioners are going and much of the area organisation is to be dispensed with. I cannot see that these social questions will be dealt with, unless we have not only a national but an area plan such as the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) referred to, based upon geographical and geological considerations. It is not any good trying to patch up this serious shortcoming in our countryside. Therefore I reinforce the appeal which has been made to the Government and I say to them: If this is the last word we are to have with regard to water supplies, hundreds of thousands of people in the villages are likely still to be without decent water supplies. A suggestion was made to the right hon. Lady during the previous Debate, that it might be possible for the Government to take over the various systems of water supply at camps 874 and aerodromes, as well as sewage, electricity and other systems, because they are already installed and have ready-made roads. Under the system of pressure supply, good water might be fed from the camps to the villages. I believe that it is our best chance of getting an immediate supply in many parts of East Anglia.
I agree with the hon. Member who said that we need one Minister to be responsible for water supplies. It is true that on the back of the Bill appear the names of the Minister of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, but I firmly believe that matters like coast erosion, catchment hoards, supply and conservation of water should all be under one Minister. That should be obvious to anybody in this House. I hope that the Government will reconsider the problem also from that point of view. It is obviously quite possible to overcrowd the Statute Book with permissive legislation. We can carry all these Acts of Parliament but they do not supply a single gallon of water. We need administrative action and drive. We need proper planning of these schemes, with one Minister to take charge of them and to produce a national water system. I appeal to the right hon. Lady to tell us that these ideas are in the mind of the Government and that they will produce a comprehensive scheme in the near future.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I listened to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), and the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) with a great deal of interest, but some confusion. They talked a great deal about this Bill being insufficient and being permissive, and about wanting a great national water scheme. But what do they mean by that? Do they mean that they want a grid system of water round the country? I know some hon. Members want it. If that is so, we shall not get water to the rural districts nearly so quickly as we shall under the very simple provisions of this Bill. I do not wish to weary the House but it is time we were reminded of what we are talking about, and may I read two short extracts from two Clauses of the Bill? Clause 28 states:It shall be the duty of every local authority … to provide a supply of wholesome water in pipes to every part of their 875 district in which there are houses or schools. …Clause 27 says:… statutory water undertakers supplying water otherwise than in bulk shall give a supply of water on reasonable terms and conditions for purposes other than domestic purposes to the owner or occupier of any premises within their limits of supply who requests them …Reading these two extracts my conclusion is that if the local authorities—I agree there may be decayed local authorities in Suffolk—are kept up to the scratch, and I think that Parliamentary representatives should help in that, and statutory undertakers do their job, we should get water in a reasonable time.
It is nonsense to talk, as did the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, about "Why do we not get these water supply schemes before the war with Germany ends?" He, and other Members of this House often forget that we are fighting a war, and that all materials and labour must be directed to smashing Germany. It is nonsense to say that we should make our effort against Germany less, in order that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, or the hon. Member for Eye, may get a little more water for one village.
§ Mr. Granville
It is surely the duty of the local authority to carry out this scheme, but what is to happen if the local authority does not carry it out? Where is there any national plan to compel them to take action?
§ Mr. Turton
In the old days, the duty was less extensive than it is to be now. We have improved the provisions under the Public Health Acts so that scattered houses can receive water. In the old days the obligation to supply water was only in a village where there was a school. As I read Clause 28, and I hope the right hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong, this power is now being extended to include scattered houses. That is of great importance. We in this House cannot provide water, but we can order local authorities and statutory water undertakers to do so, and if they fail, we have to see that provision is made that their duties shall be enforced.
I did not however rise to talk generally on the Bill. I am afraid I was encouraged to do so by the speech of the hon. Member for Eye. I merely want to ask the right 876 hon. Lady one question on the compulsory acquisition of land for water purposes. May I congratulate the Minister and the right hon. Lady on this Bill? Unlike certain other Bills, it does provide that where land which is to be compulsorily acquired is common land, the State shall see that the rights of the commoners are decently protected. I am very happy to find that provision in this Bill, so soon after the Government made an error in that direction in another Bill, which I am not allowed to talk about to-day. I am a little unhappy about Clauses 23 and 24. It does appear that under these Clauses the undertakers may have power to acquire land compulsorily—not if it is common land, but land over which the public have a right of access, or especially which they are apt to use for recreational purposes—and there is no redress at all. There is a rather ominous passage in Clause 23 which says:The provisions of Part I of the First Schedule to this Act, other than paragraph 8, shall apply to the making of applications and orders under this section.That might sound all right to an innocent sort of person, but when one looks at paragraph 8, one finds that it is the only paragraph in the Schedule which gives Parliament the right to determine whether an objection is just or unjust. It is important that the right of Parliament in this matter of compulsory purchase should be secured. I will not argue to-day that the old method of the Private Bill Committee was the speediest or most economical way of settling these matters, but I do say that the ultimate arbiter in these questions of the compulsory acquisition of land must in some form be Parliament. I am backed up in that by the statement made by the Prime Minister on 20th June last year, in dealing with this very point of acquisition of land for water purposes. He there stated:… the main object of the new system would be to secure that the question of national policy if challenged, should be determined on the floor of the House, and that subject thereto, the interests of private persons affected should be considered by a procedure corresponding to the procedure on a private Bill.Orders made subject to such new procedure would, after any local inquiry or other preliminary proceeding required by the relevant statute, be laid before both houses of Parliament for a stated period, during which objection could be taken thereto either by negative resolution moved by a Member of the House or by petition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1944; Vol. 401, c. 34.]877 As I read these Clauses—they are not too clear to the ordinary unskilled mind—they do mean that in certain cases statutory undertakers may be able to take large areas of land where there is no water, land which might be required for an extension of a waterworks, for enclosing another valley, say, in the Lake District, and the associations interested in the preservation of those amenities will have no right to object and no tribunal to which they can come to have their objection heard and determined. I hope the right hon. Lady will deal with that point. May I say, as I did in the beginning, that I think this Bill is an advance in water legislation? I think the Government are to be congratulated on bringing it forward, and I hope that when this Bill is law, local authorities and statutory undertakers will see that everybody in the country district get the water they deserve.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
I want to follow what has been said by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Mallon (Mr. Turton). We do not always agree. I think he would be rather horrified if we did. I do agree with him entirely in the point he has brought forward. But first I welcome this Bill in general, for I believe that the supply of water, especially to rural areas, is now second in importance only to the supply of houses. The Women's Institutes are not generally a revolutionary body, but they produced a revolutionary document. I welcome the Bill, but I think it would be a good thing if a Minister were placed in charge of this question of water supplies, because he would have to justify his existence by some activity, and the Bill is all right if it is pushed through with the utmost vigour. I think we need somebody who will do that.
The one point I wish to make, following on what the previous speaker said, is that it seems to me that far too little attention is paid in this Bill, as in some other Bills which have been before us recently, to the preservation of the natural beauties of this country, the preservation of our amenities. Here too little attention seems to me to be paid to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. We have this Ministry, and everybody seems to forget about it. One is afraid that a the end of the war there will be an un- 878 holy rush to provide the necessities that to far too many of the people of this country are still luxuries, and a tendency to put hideous houses and other eyesores in districts where they should not he, with the result that the natural beauties of those districts will be spoiled, perhaps for generations to come. If we are w protect those natural beauties it is essential that we should pay the utmost attention to them now, in any Bill that is passed while the war is on. I am glad that Clause 24 (4) gives power to statutory undertakers compulsorily to buy land. More of that is needed if these necessities are to be supplied to people with the greatest speed on the greatest possible scale. But, according to the Second Schedule, paragraphs 3 and 4, the only person who has the right to object to this compulsory power to buy the land is the owner of the land himself. I do not think that that is good enough.
I am lucky enough to have the greater part of Exmoor in my constituency. Reading the Bill, I am not sure that the greater part of Exmoor might not be bought for the purpose of providing water, without any care to national planning, without any thought that we want to preserve what is left of our countryside, to conserve its natural beauties and to develop national parks and so on. Clause 24 (6) talks about ancient monuments and objects of archaeological interest, but Exmoor is not an ancient monument or an object of archaeological interest. Subsection (7) of that same Clause says that if a compulsory purchase Order authorises the acquisition of commons, open spaces or allotments the Order shall be provisional only, and shall not have effect until confirmed by Parliament. That may be the way out—I do not know—but I hope the right hon. Lady, when she winds up the Debate, will make it very much clearer that the protection of the natural beauties of the country have been in the Government's mind while drafting this Bill. Such areas as Exmoor provide very valuable gathering areas for rainfall, and these things slip through Parliament in a very awkward way. I urge that there should be some provision for the Ministry of Town and Country Planning to be represented on the proposed Central Advisory Committee. On the Central Advisory Committee which was appointed in 1937 some of the Departments are represented. I notice that the White Paper on National 879 Water Policy mentions the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of War Transport, the Ministry of Health, and the Department of Scientific Research; in the new Committee shall we also have the Ministry of Town and Country Planning?
I beg the Government, very sincerely, to see whether, before this Bill becomes law, some paragraphs in it may not give us the necessary guarantee that the natural beauties of this country are not to be destroyed in this natural rush to get houses and water and all the rest supplied as soon as possible. Having said that, let me insist that nobody could be more alive than I am to the necessity of supplying water as quickly as possible to the rural areas. There are places in my constituency, as in a great number of other constituencies, where the position is absolutely disgraceful. But do not let us forget that Britain contains areas of the greatest beauty, and that we do not want to see them destroyed.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)
In accordance with the custom which this House expects Members to follow, I desire to say, at the outset of my remarks, that I have a certain interest in a statutory water undertaking. Having said that, I think that I can say that the water undertakings, be they local authorities or be they statutory companies, are in general agreement with the principles of this Bill. There are certain matters which will call for consideration on the Committee stage. The constitution of the Central Water Advisory Committee and, I think, the constitutions of the joint water advisory committees are both matters to which further consideration will have to be given.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) complained that the Minister had recommended this Bill to the House as embodying the minimum of change. I thought that my hon. and learned Friend did less than justice to the Minister when he said that. I did not understand that to be what the Minister meant. I understood the Minister to say that this Bill did all these things which were necessary and essential for the improvement of the existing law of water supply. The Bill may also go beyond that, and give the Minister 880 power to do other things as well which may prove to be essential in the future.
I listened with particular interest, as I always do, to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden). I was glad to hear him say that it would have assisted in the consideration of this Bill if, at the same time, we had been able to see the Bill, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred this morning, which will set up the proposed river boards, recommended by the Central Water Advisory Committee. I hope that when the right hon. Lady replies she will be able to give us some assurance that before we part with the present Bill we may be told what further provision is made in that Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol complained that in matters of water policy there was what he described as divided responsibility. He said that the administration of water policy ought to be vested in a public commission. I am not such an admirer of public commissions as is my hon. Friend. Water policy is a matter of national importance, and I cannot agree with him that it ought to be separated from the administration of a Minister responsible and answerable to this House. But I am inclined to agree with some of his criticism about the division of responsibility. I have said before, on one or two previous occasion in this House that the Minister who, in my judgment, ought to be made responsible for water policy is not my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health, but the Minister of Town and Country Planning. After all, the Minister of Town and Country Planning is charged with the general planning of areas all over the country, and I should have thought that the planning of the water supplies of those places was an essential part of the task which he has to perform. However, I do not expect my right hon. and learned Friend to agree with that criticism, and I shall not be surprised if later on the right hon. Lady dissents from it.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol made some criticisms of the statutory water undertakings. Now I agree that there are, or ought to be, no party politics in a matter of this kind. It really does not matter whether the people who supply a district with water are a local authority, a public 881 statutory company or a private company, provided that they do the job well. Efficiency is, after all, the test of a public service of this nature.
§ Mr. A. Walkden
Will my hon. and learned Friend allow me? I hope he can appreciate the difference between a rather small private company, or any private concern, big or little, and a public statutory authority comparable with the London Passenger Transport Board. I do not want to detach it from any Ministry; it must be associated with some Ministry. Such an authority, national in character and backed by this House, could raise its money for improvement purposes—and that is what we want—on better terms than any small statutory company, like my Wisbech one, which is very small, and will have great difficulty in raising its money, and that is very important.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I appreciated my hon. Friend's point and was just going to deal with it. In his speech, my hon. Friend made some comment upon the rates of interest upon which the statutory companies raised their capital. My hon. Friend said that, in earlier days, they were allowed to pay a return of 10 per cent. on their capital. He said that the rate has now been reduced. The common rate is, I believe, now 7 per cent. But my hon. Friend did not seem to be aware that these companies are required to raise their capital by tender or auction in the public market, and the reputation which they have established amongst investors is such that they are able to issue their capital at a substantial premium. It is a fact that the actual rate of interest which these companies are now paying on capital which has been raised in that way is very little more than 4 per cent.
§ Mr. A. Walkden
Surely my hon. and learned Friend is not forgetting that the L.C.C., which is a great public authority, gets its money at 3 per cent.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
We have narrowed the margin down now from 7 per cent. to 1 per cent., because my hon. Friend's point this morning was that they were raising it at 7 per cent. when it might have been raised at 3 per cent. Now, there is only i per cent. between us. Let me see if I can put the matter in a way that will satisfy my hon. Friend. These statutory companies, in return for the slightly higher 882 return which they are able to pay upon their capital, undertake a certain amount of risk. That is by no means an unreal thing. In recent years, we have seen that it may be very real indeed. There are towns in this country which have become partially de-populated by reason of the war, and where much of the loss which has been sustained on water undertakings has had to be made good by the shareholders of the statutory company. There are other portions of the country where, in the weather conditions experienced in recent summers, there has been a substantial loss on the sale of water. In those cases, the water undertaker has not had to increase his rates. The loss has fallen upon the shareholders of the company. Suppose that the water undertaking had raised its capital at the lowest possible market rate at which it could have been obtained, and that it had suddenly encountered a situation of that nature, due to the consequences of war or to an exceptionally dry summer or something of that kind. The only course left to the water undertaking would be to raise its rates to the consumers. It may not be a very wise thing that we should expect that these undertakers should raise their capital at such a low rate of interest that they would be unable to enjoy that flexible margin which they can get under the present arrangements.
Let me come now to the question of amalgamations. One or two hon. Members have spoken of amalgamation as if a mere amalgamation of undertakings was going to bring about an improvement in the water supply. I would say to those hon. Members that, where you amalgamate two or more water undertakings, the lay-out of the mains and the technical apparatus of those undertakings necessarily remains the same. Because you amalgamate the undertakings you do not pull up the existing mains and put down a new series of mains and pumping stations. Amalgamation, by itself, is not going to improve the supply of water within any limits of supply. What is wanted is not necessarily that the undertakings should, be amalgamated, but that they should be able—and if they will not do it, they should be compelled—to exchange supplies of water in bulk with one another. It sometimes happens that you may get an undertaking which has to supply a very large population for which it possesses limited resources, while an 883 adjoining undertaking has abundant resources but a limited population. You are not going to improve the conditions in either of those areas by the amalgamation of the undertakings; but you are going to improve them if the undertaking which possesses abundant resources can, without difficulty, be compelled to supply water in bulk to the undertaking whose supplies are limited.
§ Mr. Levy
My hon. and learned Friend is a little inconsistent. He shows where there is no improvement and where there is improvement and then contradicts himself, failing to realise that, by unification and amalgamation, you get one administrative unification of the area, where interchange of bulk supplies will be automatic.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
If my hon. Friend had a little patience, he would have seen that I was going to deal with that. I was going to say that you can, by an exchange of bulk supplies, which this Bill aims at bringing about, achieve that unification in those areas at present short of supplies, which will be just as effective as if the undertakings were amalgamated. My hon. Friend said that amalgamation will result in administrative economies. He has more faith in amalgamations than I have from that point of view. I have seen a good many amalgamations, and I have yet to see one result in administrative economies.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery made a very dramatic speech upon a Bill which, as the Minister said, is not of a very dramatic nature. I listened to the description which he gave of the conditions in many rural places in Wales and in England. It was a description with which the House, generally, will agree. But one must not overstate the position in the rural areas. It is the case that only 5 per cent. of the total population are not at present in possession of a piped supply of water, I understood—
§ Mr. De Chair (Norfolk, South-West)
Will my hon. and learned Friend allow me to remind him that, although only 5 per cent. of the total population of England and Wales are without a piped water supply, 30 per cent. of rural houses are without a piped supply?
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. All I am saying is that in 884 order to get a true picture one must not overstate the case. I listened with particular interest to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend and I waited for him to come to that part of his speech in which I expected him to describe what he would regard as a national water policy. I do not think that he ever came to it. I understood him to say that the reason why the local authorities had failed to discharge the duty which had been placed upon them long ago was because they were not possessed of the necessary financial resources. That may be the case. If my hon. and learned Friend looks at this Bill, and at this Bill alone, he may not find a complete solution of the problems which he stated to the House. But that is not the right way to estimate the national water policy. My right and hon. learned Friend made no mention of the re-arrangement of local authorities which may result from the Minister's policy for dealing with the reform of local government. He made no mention of the fact that at present conversations are proceeding between the Treasury and local authorities with a view to a financial re-adjustment. Those are all matters which have a bearing upon a national water policy.
If you look to this Bill and not beyond this Bill, you may not find in this Bill alone all the elements of the national water policy for which my hon. and learned Friend has asked. But that is not a fair way to judge the matter. You have to look at the policy of the Government as a whole. In conclusion, I would like to support the suggestion that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) that this Bill might be referred to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses. It is a Bill which must necessarily take a little time on the Committee stage and it is equally a Bill which both sides of the House are agreed ought to be passed into law as quickly as possible. Therefore, I commend the suggestion to my right hon. and learned Friend. Subject to those matters to which I have referred, this Bill marks a substantial advance in the codification and simplification of a difficult, involved but highly important branch of our law.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
If I were asked for a short description of this Bill I would say that it is a useful 885 Bill but not useful enough. It has a lot of shortcomings, but I do not suppose that anyone who desires an improvement in the present system would insist on voting against it. It will undoubtedly improve the position, but there are a lot of other things which ought to be in the Bill. It cannot be called a national Bill in any real sense of the word, and greater consideration ought to have been given to what has been described as a national policy. We say that in the future we are to have very great improvements in housing, that the population is to be spread out and that congested areas are to be made less congested by the removal of population, including some of the business population. New towns are to be set up. Places like London will have to spread out. There will be a green belt round London and outside the green belt new towns will grow up. The average business man, if he were considering removing his business from a congested area, would ask what were the prospects of an ample water supply, an ample supply of electricity and an ample sewerage system. These things are closely related and I could not approve of a scheme that did not relate them one to the other. Any scheme which could really be called national ought to provide for all the people all over the country the prime necessities of light and power, sewerage, and water. The Bill cannot be called a national Bill unless it deals with the necessary amenities for every member of the public. That would be my general criticism of the Bill.
The Bill itself provides that the Minister shall have certain responsibilities but, in taking those responsibilities, he passes on a great deal of the responsibility to local authorities. While he covers himself adequately and amply with regard to the financial side of his Ministry, he is not so concerned about the local authorities. To impose a duty on a local authority with regard to the supply of water, knowing that the authority is not in a financial position to meet its responsibility, is not fair. To that extent I agree entirely with what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). There are many local authorities on whom the Minister may try to impose a duty which they are entirely unable to accept because of their financial position. The Minister may say: "We will come to 886 your aid," but, frankly, all my experience of public life—and it has been a fairly long one—has shown that when the Minister comes to your aid he always comes to your aid in parts.
The parts which are left to be met by the local authority are so numerous that it is becoming impossible for local authorities to stand the strain. I think most local authorities to-day have reached the limit of what they can stand in regard to putting any extra on their rates. A national water supply ought to be considered as a national necessity, just as the Army and the Navy are considered to be national necessities, and I must add the Air Force. A national water supply ought to be paid for by the people, broadly, over the whole country. After all, those who need water most are the poorer people with large families who are least able to provide for their own necessities, and they ought to be assured that they will not have to pay equally, let us say, with people like myself with no family and therefore having less to pay in meeting their responsibilities.
Another criticism I would level at the Bill is this: I believe it was the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), and, I think, also the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson), who pointed out that the Bill is right in leaving all these smaller authorities just as they are. They can, of course, if they desire, come together and negotiate arrangements by which they will amalgamate, but there is no compulsion.
§ Mr. G. Hutchinson
I did not say the Bill was right in leaving them just as they are. I said the Bill enabled the Minister to make arrangements between them which might be more effective than a complete amalgamation of the smaller undertakings would have been.
§ Mr. McEntee
Yes, but the arrangements are entirely voluntary and can only be made if they are willing. The Metropolitan Water Board, of which I have not been a member for a great number of years, showed me when I was a member that it is an exceedingly efficient body indeed. It is democratic. Every member of it has been elected by the area he represents, and if he ceases to be a member of his local authority he ceases to be a member of the Board. Because that is 887 a good democratic arrangement, the Board body. However, within the area of the is a good, democratic, and very efficient Metropolitan Water Board itself are smaller water undertakers with powers and responsibilities and some of these are unable to meet their responsibilities. They come to the Metropolitan Water Board and ask the Board to sell to them some of the water which it has collected. I am not complaining about that, but why, if bodies are inefficient, should they remain in existence in the area of the Metropolitan Water Board or in other areas? Although I used the word "inefficient," it is perhaps not the best word to use. Such undertakers are set in circumstances for which they are not responsible, but because of them are unable to carry out their undertakings.
Therefore I think the time has come when the Minister should do something about these undertakers. He might say, as a predecessor of his in another Ministry in a previous Government said: "London transport has been in such a muddle for a long time that the time has arrived when something must be done to make it more efficient and work more smoothly and more in the interest of the public of London generally." The consequence was the London Passenger Transport Board. I could criticise the London Passenger Transport Board in many ways but it has given us an infinitely better transport service than we had in its area previously. So I say to the Minister that I am sorry he has been so timid, that he is not willing to do for water what a previous Minister did for transport, and say that the time has arrived—and undoubtedly it has arrived—when many of the local authorities and many of the private undertakings dealing in water, not only in London but in the country generally—have, because of circumstances they cannot control in many respects, become inefficient and unable to carry out their duty.
I hope the Minister will do something more than give us this Bill. I hope he will set up some kind of real body with power to plan the country, to survey, and to give us some kind of system that will include sewerage and water, and, for myself, I would say electricity also. At any rate, sewerage and water are so closely linked together that I think any Bill dealing with one should deal with both. 888 After all there is no use in telling a person "You must do this" if he has not the power to do it, and there is no use in telling a local authority to do this thing if the Minister knows beforehand—and he knows it perfectly well—that many of these local authorities are quite powerless to do it because of their financial position. If he is still Minister—and I hope he will be, because he is not a bad Minister—20, 25 or even 50 years from now, we shall find him still talking about this business of water and still saying that the local authorities should have done this and that; but they will not have done it because they have not the power to do it, as he knows. Some of these local undertakings pay, some do not; some will pay in the future, some will not; and the country will have to pay where they lose.
I commenced by saying the Bill was a useful one and I end by saying so. But it is not useful enough, and I hope that the Minister—who has a mind quite big enough to do it—will get down to it and take a few nights off somewhere and think the problem out on a much bigger scale than anything contemplated by this Bill. It is small and niggardly in some regards, large and visionary in others. I hope he will look at the parts that are small and niggardly and bring us something during his tenure of office that will be large and visionary and cover the real needs of the country both in regard to water and sewerage.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. De Chair (Norfolk, South-Western)
I join other speakers in welcoming the Second Reading of this Bill and in congratulating the Minister on bringing it forward. I am unable to share the point of view of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville), who take the point of view that they should castigate the Minister for producing the remedy for a situation which has long been deplorable—as if he were, in fact, to blame for the continued neglect of our water supplies in the past. I should have regarded it as a disgrace if this House of Commons, which was elected in 1935, nearly nine years ago, had reached the end of its life without having dealt in a comprehensive fashion with this question of water supplies, and particularly with the water supplies in the rural areas. I do not believe those in the cities yet realise 889 the deplorable conditions that exist in the rural districts as a result of the lack of a proper piped water supply.
We understand from the White Paper on Water Supplies that the Government intend to spend £15,000,000 on new water supplies and, of course, that figure is actually provided for in the Rural Water Supplies Act of last year. I would like to ask the right hon. Lady who is to reply to the Debate whether or not the Ministry yet have returns from rural districts to indicate whether they are ready to go ahead with their schemes the moment the war with Germany is over. The Minister, in an interjection during the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, pointed out that the legislation provided for in the 1944 Act would not take effect until the end of the war with Germany, and we all understand that limitation. But the corollary should be that the Ministry should have all, their plans prepared, or should make sure that the rural districts have all their plans prepared, so that they have only to press the button and these new schemes will come into operation at once.
It is essential to reduce these matters of legislation to a practical time-table. We had Debates year after year before the war deploring the condition of water supplies in this country, and we have had to wait for a war before legislation could be introduced which would cope with that situation adequately. Owing to the war we cannot do anything until it is over. One feels rather like a desert traveller, who, extremely thirsty when crossing the desert, sees the mirage of a wonderful fountain spray in the distance which, at nearer approach, continually recedes. We hope that in the legislation now before the House we are actually getting towards reality, and that after the war with Germany we shall, during the latter part of this year, or next year, see the implementation of the promise contained in this legislation.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton (Barnard Castle)
I also do not think it is wise to castigate the Minister of Health. What we ought to do is to look back on the legislation that is on the Statute Book and see whether part of the blame, if not all, does not rest on the local authorities for not carrying out the work they ought to have carried out. By and large we have a fairly regular 890 water supply in the form of rainfall, yet in some parts of the country, in some seasons of the year, it is as dry as the Sahara, while at other periods of the year one is reminded of the story of Noah's Ark and the Flood. Surely the intelligence of our people has not fallen so low that we cannot take this abundant supply which nature gives us and collect it, store it, and distribute it in a far better way than we have done before. We know that great difficulties have arisen owing to the increased use of water during the last few years. Time was when it was very rare to find a bath in a house. Those days have gone, or are going fast. Also, in those far off days sanitation was not carried out by the water carriage system. Further, industries are now using more and more water. The object of this Bill is to get over some of those difficulties. The Minister is carrying on where his predecessor left off and is to appoint, or may appoint, joint Advisory Water Committees. I ask him to be very careful about selection of the areas represented by these Committees, because on that selection will depend the help they will be able to give him in the carrying out of what is called a national policy. Each joint area, served by a joint committee, out to have a sufficient supply for the whole of its area, so that a combination of the areas would make for a national policy.
There are one or two points of criticism I want to make, although I have no wish to condemn the Bill. On the Minister rests, as is stated in Part I of the Memorandum,… the specific duty of promoting in England and Wales the provision of adequate water supplies, the conservation of water resources and the effective execution by water undertakers, under his control and direction, of a national water policy.That is a very big job indeed, and he cannot do it by himself. If he gets these joint Advisory Committees formulated on a sound basis, and used as an aggregate, he will be able to shoulder his heavy task. Clause 28 of the Bill lays it down that it is the duty of every local authority to do certain workto take from time to time such steps as may be necessary for ascertaining the sufficiency and wholesomeness of water supplies.I take it that that is not permissive, but that it is an absolute duty on them to do this. They have 891to provide a supply of wholesome water in pipes to every part of their district in which there are houses or schools … at a reasonable cost.Where they cannot do it at a reasonable cost it is still obligatory upon them to find a supply of water other than in pipes, always remembering that it must be at a reasonable cost.
The question of finance has been raised. One of the obstacles to the progress of the work envisaged in this Bill will be the cost. If some local authorities were to carry out all that has to be done, and pay for it themselves, they would be submerged in debt. Clause 30 seems to amplify what Clause 28 states, except that we pass from "shall" to "may." Here again it would have been better if it had been obligatory on local authorities to serve notice on the owners that the houses should have a wholesome and sufficient supply of water.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) said that only 5 per cent. had a water supply. To talk about it in percentages is a trite way of covering matters up. Five per cent. does not sound much but it means over 2,000,000 persons, who are citizens of the country and deserve something much better. The rural areas have been steadily neglected. It is a most remarkable thing that the supplies of water come from the rural areas. There are innumerable villages and hamlets in the dales where I live. There is a great dam at the head of the valley and from that huge reservoir there run pipes, which must be 15 inches in diameter, passing through the villages to the towns and the congested industrial areas; yet in those villages the people have to walk quite respectable distances to get water from a well or stream. A previous speaker asked for an assurance that something should be done to tap this water, because, if it belongs to anyone, it belongs to the villages.
Under Clause 28 I take it that a local authority may serve notice on the owner of houses outside the reach of an ordinary water supply, where the distance and the cost are too great. In my district there are isolated houses like that. The less said about the water supply the better. Not long ago there was a case of typhus which was traced to the water. Does the Clause mean that a local authority can 892 serve notice on an owner so that an isolated house shall have an adequate and wholesome supply? I hope it does. There are scores of places where they are using polluted water. They have no other. The people who live in those houses are the yeomen of England. They have been the backbone of the country for centuries, and they deserve something better. If I can get an assurance on that point alone, although the Bill is not satisfactory to everyone, I think something creditable will have been done.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I am not very familiar with this problem of water supply, but I think there is one hon. Member above all who ought to be congratulated on the Bill and that is the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), who has been talking water in this House for years. I suppose he has been drinking it too. Quite seriously, I think this is a very necessary Measure. It carries us a good way forward, but what is to be done to implement its provisions will depend in the end on the enthusiasm and spirit of the Minister in charge for the time being. It will most certainly give the Minister power to do a great deal for the people in providing them with a wholesome water supply. I do not know much either about the technical problems connected with water, but I realise that a great deal of planning will have to be done before you start any construction at all. I am wondering whether the Minister will send word urging local authorities to proceed with plans on the lines which have already been suggested to him. That is the very first thing to be done when the Bill becomes law.
Let me give a case in point. Twelve months ago or more one of the largest municipal corporations in the country dismissed nearly the whole of their civil engineering staff simply because they said they could not proceed on a long-term policy until they knew the Government's policy on housing and the location of industry. It seems to me, therefore, that the Minister would do the greatest service of all in urging local authorities, as soon as the Bill passes, to employ competent persons to plan and be ready to construct when the war ends. I am not sure that in some cases it may not take two or three years to get the plans out. It may need tunnels 15 or 20 miles long to bring 893 water down to the urban population from a given area in the countryside. Some are complaining that local authorities have not the money to proceed with this work, but the large authority I have mentioned has plenty of money. It was not money that failed them; what failed them was spirit—the spirit of adventure. I am not therefore as critical of the Ministry of Health with regard to water supply as I am of some local authorities. Then, there are cases where a pipe line comes down say, 100 miles from a lake district to places like Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, and there are small local authorities right on the route which will have their own water undertakings when they could be supplied direct from the pipe of the larger undertaking. I do not know how far this Bill deals with a problem like that. The most astonishing thing that I have come across is the case of villages, with their own nice little lakes near by, which have not enough adventure to lay down pipes to bring the water to their houses.
§ Mr. Davies
North Wales is not peculiar in that respect. I have seen places in England like that too. I have also seen the case where they have been induced to bring the water down from the lake to the village, and they put all the taps outside instead of inside the houses. There has been a great deal of criticism of the Ministry of Health about water supplies, but in my experience of public life I believe that the local authorities must be enthused; ought to be induced by the intervention of the Minister to do some of the things which this Bill calls upon them to do. A clean water supply in the houses of the people is after all the greatest asset for health; it is the health of the nation that counts in the end, and from that angle I also welcome this Bill.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
After those few remarks from the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), in which he urged that we should put spirit as well as water into the local authorities, I would like to assure him that some of the points he has mentioned are already dealt with. I would like to 894 give the same assurance to the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton), who also mentioned the subject of pipes going through small villages, and asked whether there was power to tap them. The hon. Member for Westhoughton mentioned cases where there was a local water supply which was not being used. In many cases it is better that the local supply should be used, but if the hon. Members, and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), who asked a similar question, will study Clause 12, they will sec that there is the power for which they are asking with regard to bulk supplies. As to whether the local authorities can plan, I would remind hon. Members who raised the point that the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act was passed in cutter that the local authorities in rural areas might begin to make their plans. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) asked a question about this. We realise the difficulties arising through shortage of staff, but plans are being made, local inquiries are being held, and preparations are going on, although during the war the actual work cannot be begun.
§ Mr. De Chair
The point I want cleared up is whether the right hon. Lady can give any information as to the stage that these preparations have reached. In my constituency, for instance, I know that one local authority is far advanced with its plans, and we would like to know whether all of them are.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
That may be a point of interest to the hon. Member, but it has nothing to do with this Bill. I gave the importance of preparations as an example and only just mentioned that Act, but I would be out of Order in going into further details. Hon. Members have said that they welcome the Bill and that it is a useful Measure. Some have said that they would like it to be more useful, and have made suggestions on how that should be effected. As I was taking notes of what hon. Members have suggested I was interested to find that in nine cases out of ten their suggestions were already contained in the Bill. So that, having welcomed the Bill, even though they thought their suggestions were not covered by it, I am sure that they will be even more pleased when they come to study. the Bill and find that a great many of the suggestions are already in it. Many 895 of the points that have been raised are Committee points. Those who have read the Bill realise that it is the type of Bill on which, in the Committee stage, we shall have to get down to a great deal of detail. Hon. Members have said that they would like it strengthened. Let us, when we come to deal with it Clause by Clause in Committee, see how it can be strengthened. I am certain that a lot of the work on it must be detailed work, and I am sure that hon. Members will agree that what we want to do to-day on the Second Reading is to deal with the wider aspects of the Measure.
The hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) surprised me a little at the time when he spoke of desiring more of a national scheme. I was prepared for that suggestion, but he surprised me when he went on to say that it would be better to have some commission, because Ministers come and go—as I know, having served under four—and there would be no continuity. He thought that civil servants were not the right sort of people to ensure continuity, and that what we needed was a commission outside Parliament and the Minister. I noticed that he supported the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy). The hon. Member, who has received the congratulations of the House, in which I would like to join, on at last seeing a Water Bill brought forward, wanted more money from the Treasury. It is rather a strange proposition to ask for more money from the Treasury for a commission which was not to be guided in any way by the Minister or by the Civil Service. I hardly think that that is the official policy of the Labour Party, unless it has changed very greatly.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
If the hon. Gentleman will read the speech of the hon. Member for South Bristol, he will find that he made it clear that he wanted a commission to ensure continuity because Ministers come and go, and he did not want the policy to be tied up with the Minister. I think that what we want to see is a Minister responsible for policy to this House, so that the criticism and the control of the whole scheme can remain with this House.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I interjected because the right hon. Lady said that what the hon. Member for South Bristol said was the policy of the Labour Party. It is not.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I thought I made it clear that I do not think it is the policy of the Labour Party. Thus, my hon. Friend and I are in agreement. The hon. Member for South Bristol thought that the Minister had not sufficient powers and said that there was too much to be done by agreement. He wanted to see more compulsory powers given to the Minister. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to look again at the Bill. Even in the index of the Clauses, one finds over and over again the words "by agreement or compulsorily." I cite as examples Clauses 9, 10, 12 and 24. When hon. Members have time to study the Bill more carefully they will find that the Minister is taking a tremendous amount of power—very sweeping powers. When my right hon. Friend was speaking, some hon. Members thought that when he said the powers he was taking were the minimum required, he was taking small powers. When they look at what he said, they will find that the point he was making was that the powers which are being taken in this Bill are very sweeping and considerable. Some people would almost call them, in sore cases, startling powers. At the same time, he pointed out that they were necessary powers—very great powers, but absolutely necessary for the work that has to be done.
The hon. Member for South Bristol spoke about the rate of interest charged, and he said that money could be obtained for a lower rate of interest. After victory, he said, there would be tremendous stability, and it would be quite easy to obtain capital at a very low charge. Well, perhaps there will be stability, and each one of us has his or her point of view as to what will make for stability. I do not want to be in the least controversial, so I will leave the point by saying that I hope there will be stability and that capital will be available for these enterprises. The hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) replied to the point made by the hon. Member for South Bristol. Perhaps I might emphasise again the points which he made on the subject of this interest.
The original maximum rate of dividend which the statutory water companies 897 were entitled to pay was 10 per cent. That was laid down in the Waterworks Clauses Act, 1847. Later, the maximum rate of dividend, as prescribed in water companies' Special Acts was fixed at a lower level, and for the last 50 years or so the rate has been round about 7 per cent. Now the hon. Gentleman says that 7 per cent. is too high, but, as the hon. and learned Member for Ilford pointed out, since 1887 a Standing Order of the House of Commons has required that whatever the rate of dividend prescribed in the Special Acts, any water company authorised to raise additional capital must offer such capital by public auction or tender. The effect of this is that the nominal rate of dividend is not really of great significance, since the full market price is obtained. For example, if £100 of stock is offered at 7 per cent., the purchase price would be governed by the current rate of interest on similar classes of security. If the current rate of interest was 5 per cent., the £100 worth of stock would be sold for £140.
It is not the same arrangement as is made in the ordinary way, because the Act to which I have referred lays it down that capital must be offered by public auction or tender. The hon. and learned Member for Ilford said he thought it would work out at about 4 per cent, instead of a nominal 7 per cent. As hon. Members know, the rate of interest mentioned in the Bill is 6 per cent. The hon. Member for Elland welcomed the Bill and congratulated both the Minister of Health and myself on this Water Bill having at last been produced to the House and the country generally. Hon. Members have had their opportunity, and now I have mine, of congratulating the hon. Member for Elland on the work that he has done in the last 14 years. He was able to say that he was very glad to see some result of his efforts.
The main point that he put was that he thought the machinery, or our suggestion for the machinery to be set up, was good but he was uncertain whether the machinery would work. I got the idea, as I was listening to him, of the owner of a motor car, who was not quite sure whether he could get sufficient petrol to put into it to get it going. He said he could not see how the scheme would work without more financial assistance from the Treasury and he pointed out that there 898 might be small undertakings that had to do more work and would be unable to do it, and that could not raise capital. He said it was no use having merely default powers because the small undertakings were not able to do the work that was required of them. But of course before it came to the point of going through the default procedure it would have to be considered whether these undertakings would have either to be amalgamated with others or cease to exist and allow others to take on the work. We were asked questions on the same subject by several hon. Members, and I think by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle and the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee). They said that the amalgamations were only voluntary. If the hon. Member for West Walthamstow will look at the Bill he will find that the amalgamations can be compulsory. The Minister has power to make compulsory amalgamations. It is not a case of leaving it now simply to a voluntary arrangement. The hon. Member feared that situation, but I can set his fears at rest at once. The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) has fears also, which can be set at rest in the same way. If he will examine the Bill he will see that the Minister has power to deal with small undertakings who cannot do the job.
§ Mr. Sexton
Does it not all depend upon the Minister? If he cares to exercise the powers all well and good.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Surely that would be true of any Minister and any Government. It is up to the House of Commons to criticise a Minister if he is not doing his job well.
§ Mr. McEntee
The amalgamation of a lot of bankrupt undertakings will not make for more stability. A number of these undertakings are very poor and may be unable to meet their responsibilities under the Bill. Amalgamation will not help. What they will require is a large Treasury grant.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I do not think a large Treasury grant will be the cure. You have to have an efficient undertaking. Simply to give an inefficient one more money will not help. There may have to be amalgamation or transfer to another authority.
§ Mr. H. Lawson
Will it be possible, under Clause 8, for the supply side of undertakings to be amalgamated and still 899 to leave the distribution in the hands of the local authority?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I do not think I like that idea, on first thought. The hon. Member can raise it if he likes in the Committee stage, but as he puts it at the moment I do not fancy it at all because I do not think it would be an efficient arrangement. If the hon. Member looks at Clause 9 (1, b) of the Bill he will see the words:all or any of their functions relating to the supply of water.As he puts the idea—perhaps I have not understood it quite clearly—I do not think it sounds as if it would be an efficient scheme. In all probability, these matters can be gone into during the Committee stage and we can see whether the hon. Gentleman's suggestion can be accepted and words expanded in any particular way.
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) spoke of the necessity for the Minister having powers to compel amalgamation or transfer. He thought perhaps there would not be enough backbone in the Bill, and he was willing to help us to supply it in the Committee stage. Perhaps he will find there are more bones in it than he thought if he reads some of the other Clauses. He also inquired whether the Central Advisory Committee would make an annual report to Parliament. What has happened with the Milne Committee's Report is that reports have been made when they have finished particular sections of their work. It is clear that the Advisory Committee could make a report but I would not necessarily say an annual report because I think it would have to fit in with their work. At the same time, the Minister will make an annual report, the Annual Report of his Department. In some cases, as in years gone by, I am told, when there was a particular amount to be dealt with on water, that part could be printed separately and would deal entirely with the work done under the schemes for water.
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston also spoke on the subject of waste. He said that he was unable to find the word "waste" defined in Clause 14. He thought there might be a great deal of waste and one example he gave was of water being used to grow watercress. 900 Watercress is a very useful food, and if the hon. Gentleman were asked to define waste in a Bill I think he would try to find some better definition than saying that it was water used for growing watercress. I agree with him that we desire to see that water is not wasted, and if he will look at Clause 14 of the Bill, he will see that it would be for the Court to decide what is waste. It is perhaps better to leave it at that than to try to put a definition into the Bill as to what we consider to be waste. The hon. Member for Wrexham asked about bulk supplies. As I have already stated, he will find the answer in Clause 12. The hon. Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Wootton-Davies) asked about one point which perhaps does not come immediately within the Bill, the effect on lead pipes of the chlorination of water. He asked whether anything was being done about that. The Water Pollution Research Board deals with that, and we know that in some cases lead pipes are not allowed in particular areas. He also said that we only seem to be restricting wells of more than 50 feet depth, and this surprised me, because if he will look at Clause 7—
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. The hon. Member perhaps had not noticed Clause 14 as well as Clause 7. The latter Clause deals with wells of more than 50 feet depth. In these cases we have to have information. The hon. Member will find wells as a whole dealt with in Clause 14. Again, I hope I can put his fears at rest.
The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison), who always speaks with knowledge and interest on these subjects, gave us a good deal of encouragement. He also welcomed the Bill. He mentioned several points such as the disused wells, the importance of the Geological Survey, the representation on the Advisory Committee. All these points we are bearing in mind. He also asked whether hon. Members would be able to see the Rivers Board Bill before we concluded the Committee stage of this Bill. I will certainly see what can be done to have that Bill published. He said he would like to see a Minister for Water, but that that would be rather too much, as we already had too many Ministers. I thoroughly agree with him. He suggested there might be two Under-Secretaries at 901 the Ministry of Health. He will not ask me to agree with him wholeheartedly in that. I feel that the idea that there must be a Minister, even a junior Minister for every section of the work, is not the best way of dealing with our work. I feel that in our Departments there should be separate sections dealing with each particular problem, and that the Minister, with the Under-Secretary or Under-Secretaries, should then be able to see that the policy is carried out, give information to the House and supervise that work. The suggestion has been made over and over again that each different problem should have a different Minister. What would then be required would be a mass of co-ordinating committees to bring together what had been split up at an earlier stage.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
I hope the right hon. Lady will pass on that suggestion to the Prime Minister, and ask whether it is necessary to have an Under-Secretary to deal with petrol and oil. There is a great deal more water used than petrol and oil.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I will take note of what the hon. Member has said.
The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) asked whether it would not be possible to count for grant the connection of the pipes in the house to the main. That again we will look into in connection with the Act he mentioned.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
Is there no answer to the question I asked, about whether it would be possible to have this Bill referred to a Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons instead of the ordinary Committee, for greater convenience?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I intended to deal with that point later. It was one which the hon. and learned Member for Ilford also raised. As the hon. Member has referred to it, I will deal with it now. I think there is a difference on this occasion from the other occasion in 1939, when the Water Undertakings Bill went to a committee of the kind the hon. Gentleman has indicated. We feel that this would not be the occasion for such a course. This Bill is not merely one dealing with technical points. It is really a Bill which deals with policy, in which a great deal of power is being given to the Minister. It makes a good deal of 902 change in connection with local undertakings, local authorities and the powers of Ministers, and I think that if the hon. Gentleman looks at it in that way, he will agree that this is a Bill which should be considered by a committee of this House in the ordinary way in which ordinary Bills are considered. It is not simply a technical Bill dealing entirely with technical points.
Then the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) both put forward their anxieties as to whether powers were being taken, in Clauses 23 and 24, for the acquisition of land, under which there would not be sufficient rights of objection, except for the owner of the land, or sufficient control by Parliament. First, as to the rights of people to object. Paragraph 3 (a) of the Second Schedule on page 60—the paragraph dealing with publicity—is designed to give the opportunity for objections to be raised. It would be meaningless if the Minister were to pay no attention to those objections. The idea is that there should be publicity and that therefore objections could be raised, and the Minister could hold a local inquiry to consider those objections.
I think the hon. Gentleman had in mind that large gathering grounds might be bought, without people getting a chance to make any objection. If it were to be done on a very wide scale, I am quite sure that it would involve the acquisition of water rights under Clause 26 (2). If it were only a small area of land connected with a new catchwater or with a protection of a well I do not think this would be the sort of area in which the hon. Gentleman would be interested. There would be publicity through the agency of the local inquiry, and I think in that way the people would have the chance to object. I think it will be seen that in this scheme we have done our best to meet that point. As to control by Parliament, the powers are exactly the same as the procedure for the Public Health Act water undertakers and the same as for the purpose of housing, hospitals, playing fields, etc.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett
Some of us will still not be quite satisfied unless we feel that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning—
§ Mr. Turton
I think I must point out that the scheme is not the same for housing, hospitals, etc., and that it is different from the Water Undertakings Bill of 1943 introduced two years ago.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
There are also other differences. These, I think, we could go into in the Committee stage.
The Bill does not alter the provision as regards planning control. It makes no alteration whatever. All this is still under the Planning Acts, and there will be co-operation between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. The hon. Member for Bridgwater spoke about the Milne Committee, but the Ministry of Town and Country Planning did not exist when that Committee was deliberating.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
What the. hon. Gentleman was doing was to make quite sure that we knew that a Ministry of Town and Country Planning existed. I think I have dealt with most of the points raised by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford who spoke of the value of the interchange of bulk supplies and on the subject of the dividend on capital. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) did not like the Bill and he made that quite clear. He told us of the misery of people who were without piped water supply and of the difficulties and hardships that these people were suffering. I would assure the hon. and learned Member that it is because we know of these hardships that the Bill has been introduced. It is to set up machinery to deal with these particular difficulties. I do not believe that there is any use in overlooking what has been done in the past. Of course, we all wish that it could have been done more quickly. We all wish that it were not a case of only 95 per cent. of the people having piped water supply, because we should like to see 100 per cent. It is as we get nearer to the 100 per cent. that we come upon the worst difficulties and it is because we realise that there are these difficulties that the Rural Water Supply and Sewerage Measure and, above all, this Bill have been introduced.
904 What we are hoping to do by this Bill is to deal with the very difficulty that the hon. and learned Member desires should receive attention, by setting up the necessary machinery. We all, as well as he, wish to deal with it. He does not think that the Bill will do it, and he does not think that there is enough power. What he and other hon. Members say is, "We want a national policy." Well, if he has read Clause 1, in which he sees the new powers, why is it that he is so completely pessimistic? I only hope that he will be able, one day, to come to this House and say that he has found that he is wrong and that the machinery is working well. I know that he will do it.
The hon. Member for Elland, like the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, has had his doubts, but even he now has apparently seen the rift in the clouds and hopes that there is just a chance of rain bringing the water he wants. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) was almost as pessimistic as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. I think that I have answered the majority of the questions. There are a number of smaller issues, vitally important ones, which must be gone into, as hon. Members will agree, on the Committee stage. I believe that in spite of the fact that some Members' fears do not appear to have been allayed in this Debate they themselves have not made it quite clear what it is they want. When they say they want a national policy, what sort of policy is it they have in mind? They say that they want the Minister to take more powers, but they do not say what those powers should be. They have said that they want a little bit more, but what we would like to learn is what that little bit more is, and. if we can find that out we shall then be able to look into their suggestions at the Committee stage.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second Time, and committed to a Standing Committee.