HC Deb 01 June 1949 vol 465 cc2182-235

7.7 p.m.

Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)

The Opposition have asked that the Committee should now direct their attention to another subject of interest to agriculture and the rural areas, the supply of piped water. In my experience there is no convenience, no amenity, no social service which the countrywoman wants more than a tap in her kitchen. If one asks her whether she would rather have a new bus service, a better school, or electricity, or water, she always plumps for water. The farmer says just the same. The man who is out to increase the quantity and quality of his milk and livestock must have plenty of clean water.

In an area like Salisbury Plain, on the edge of which I live, where there are thousands of acres without piped water, a man finds it difficult, if not impossible, to practise modern methods of grass management. The essential improvement, if he has to increase his output, is water for the grazing. I do not think the Committee require further arguments from me to convince them that water is a prime necessity in the home and on the farm.

Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)

In the course of his speech, will the hon. Member explain whether the need was just as great between the wars when we had two million unemployed who could have been put on the job?

Mr. Eccles

Certainly, I agree. It is necessary to bring the water to people who have not had it at any time. The need being as great as the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) says it is, it is quite right that Parliament, as occasion offers, should review the progress made in carrying out the express duty laid upon the Minister of Health to promote in England and Wales the effective execution, by water undertakings under his control and direction, of a national water policy.

Those are the words of Section 1 of the Water Act, 1945. They put upon the Minister an obligation which did not exist before. I am perfectly ready to admit that it ought to have existed before, but it did not, and it was a Conservative Minister, Mr. Willink, who brought in that Act which makes all the difference. Before the Willink Act the responsibility and powers of the Minister of Health in respect of co-ordination and the planning of water supplies were vague and ill-defined.

The 1945 Act made so great a stride forward that no one familiar with its provisions can compare progress before the war and before the Act with progress after the war and after the Act. One might say—and it would be a fair description—that before the war the Minister of Health was armed with a shovel; now he can drive a bulldozer.

Mr. Daines


Mr. Eccles

I do not intend to give way again. The point for the hon. Member to get into his head is that the present Minister of Health is the first man to hold his office who has been given a duty, powers and funds to secure the effective carrying out of a national water policy.

In order to put the Committee into a position fairly to judge the progress of the last four years. I will briefly describe what are the new powers possessed for the first time by the present Minister. The main Water Act provides that the Minister of Health shall be responsible to Parliament for seeing that local authorities and other water undertakers shall effectively fulfil their obligations to bring a supply of wholesome water in pipes to all houses where the cost of bringing that supply is reasonable.

The Minister has wide default powers to deal with any local authority or undertaker which fails to carry out that task. He can transfer their function to the county council, or to another suitable body, or to himself. He can provide compulsorily for the amalgamation of water supply undertakers. This means that where there has been a multiplicity of water supply undertakings that have not served the public well the Minister already has the power to knock their heads together and to form them into a larger group according to the geographical or other conditions of efficiency. Then, where agreement is not reached the Minister can compel an undertaker to give a bulk supply to another undertaker. The Committee will observe that that is a very important provision for the rural areas because it means that there is no excuse for failure to supply any rural area through which passes a viaduct carrying water to one of our great cities. That is a new power which the Minister has.

He can also provide by order for the compulsory acquisition of water rights. One thinks chiefly of the rights of riparian owners to take water out of a river. If those rights are not consolidated it is difficult to form a single scheme for dealing with that river. This power gives the Minister a simple central control over the surface resources of water in England and Wales which no Minister has had before. The Act also provides that if any local authority or any twenty local government electors in the area complain to the Minister that a statutory undertaker is charging too much for his water the Minister has the duty to hold an inquiry; if he is satisfied that the charges are too high he has to reduce them. Profiteering in water is therefore a thing of the past. All that is necessary is for 20 consumers to get together, and they can have justice done.

The main Water Act, some of the provisions of which I have been describ- ing, was supplemented by the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944. Perhaps I may be allowed to say that when that Act was passing through this House I took great interest in it, for high hopes were raised. We are having this Debate this evening because those hopes have not been fulfilled. That Act sets out the obligations upon local authorities which the Minister, under the main Act, has the duty to see are fulfilled. Local authorities are required, where it is practicable at a reasonable cost, to: provide a supply of wholesome water in pipes to every rural locality in their district in which there are houses or schools, and shall take the pipes … to such … points as will enable the houses or schools to be connected thereto at a reasonable cost. Clearly there may be a catch in its application arising out of what is meant by "a reasonable cost." The Act foresaw that, and provided that, if a local authority pleads excessive cost any 10 local government electors in the area can complain to the Minister, who must hold an inquiry. From my own experience I can tell hon. Members that this right to call in the Minister is a very powerful threat. I venture to recommend its use to hon. Members in their constituencies.

The Act places at the disposal of the Minister a sum of £15 million out of which to make grants towards the capital cost of these water and sewerage schemes. Adequate funds are therefore provided: there is no obstacle on the money side. The Committee will be aware that questions about the reasonableness of the cost of bringing water usually arise in connection with isolated farms and groups of farm cottages. Parliament also foresaw that difficulty and provided for those remote agricultural consumers in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Acts, 1940 and 1943, under which the Minister of Agriculture has power to grant up to 50 per cent. of the cost of the water taken to farm land, farm houses and farm cottages.

Those are some of the powers to improve the supply of water which Socialist Ministers are the first to possess. I have troubled the Committee with a description of them because I want to show that there is no foundation thereafter for the idea that any further change in the law is required before Ministers can initiate, co-ordinate and control the bringing of water to all who need it. In support of this view I call as witness none other than the Minister of Health himself. Two years ago, at the Labour Party Conference at Margate, the right hon. Gentleman resisted a resolution calling for the nationalisation of water. He said at the time, and we certainly look to him to repeat his words at Blackpool next week: You can alter the machinery of Government as much as you like; you can carry this resolution and alter that Act of Parliament and you would not get a single drop more of water. The limiting factor at the present time on the provision of more water is the lack of iron and steel for the piping and the lack of labour. The right hon. Gentleman went on: I should be hypocritical if I said that we could solve water problems in Great Britain by accepting this resolution. The plain answer is that we have all the machinery we need for adequate water supply in Great Britain, but what we have not got are the materials and the labour. There ended the first lesson, and we await with interest the second instalment at Blackpool.

The Committee will note that the right hon. Gentleman, speaking at Margate, said that the rate of progress, which is admitted to be bitterly disappointing, has been governed by the shortage of labour and materials. That is a half truth, but not more than a half truth as, I think, can be shown by examining the stages through which a water scheme must go from the day when it is first conceived in the rural district council's office to the day when the last pipe is laid in the earth.

I must ask the Committee to go back to September, 1944, when the Rural Water Supplies Act was placed on the Statute Book. Immediately afterwards the then Minister of Health, Mr. Willink, sent out an important circular to all local authorities, instructing them to get on with their plans to carry out their new duties so that work could begin as soon as possible after the war. The councils responded very well. Indeed, the present Minister has never complained of their inactivity. The fact is that plans came forward in an embarrassingly large volume. Every one of these plans has first to go to the appropriate county council for comment, which is sensible enough because they have to make a contribution to the cost and they have the knowledge which enables them to suggest co-operation between two or more rural districts. I have, not heard any complaint that the county councils have taken too much time over the passing of plans.

The next stage is to send the plans to the Minister for approval in principle. The right hon. Gentleman can, and often does, order a public inquiry, and when that is out of the way the Ministry have to decide that they can give the plan a starting date. The Committee may be surprised to hear that the phrase "starting date" does not mean the day on which the work can be started. Those two words represent a rarified concept thought up by the central planners, and means solely that the particular scheme has been accepted within the national investment programme. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, when I first came across this phrase I was completely taken in as, I believe, were many others as well.

After the scheme has got its so-called starting date, the Ministry begin to consider when they can give it final authorisation. Final authorisation does mean what it says; it means that the contractor can go ahead with the work. But long before this final authorisation is given half a dozen Ministries have to be consulted and countless formalities have to be gone through; I will not weary the Committee with details, but I ask hon. Members to note this salient fact about all this steeple-chasing around Whitehall—jumping one fence, dodging another and burrowing under a third. This is the salient fact: At every stage the time-table is in the hands of the Minister; at every point he can delay action if he wishes. His Department can hold up the answer to the rural council or, if they are hard pressed they can do as they did in the case of the water scheme coming to my village a week or two ago—send an answer dealing with another scheme in another county altogether. This, of course, is not like steeplechasing. It is like a game of snakes and ladders. One has to go way back and start all over again.

The Parliamentary Secretary will say, as the Minister did at Margate, that all these delays are necessary because rural councils send forward more schemes than can be begun with the available materials and labour. The Committee cannot accept this defence because the Government themselves decide how much labour and materials are to be allocated to water schemes, and within the national total the amounts required for these schemes are not very large. Indeed, they may be called very small. To what extent has the Minister tried to get adequate labour and materials for water schemes?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)

I hope the hon. Member will let us know what schemes he would reduce, in order to increase allocations to water schemes.

Mr. Eccles

I intend to discuss priorities in a few minutes.

I was saying that it is not easy to get a figure for the quantity of materials that have gone into water schemes so far. The reason is because the Ministry's figures always relate to authorisations, and never to the amount of work done or likely to be done. We know that in the four years since the war the total authorisations in the rural areas amount to little more than £6 million. The only way I can check the actual amount of work done is to look at the Ministry of Health Estimates and accounts, at the money going out from the £15 million by way of grants under the Rural Water Supplies Act. The figures are most revealing. Take the last two years: In 1948–9 the amount was £450,000, which the Committee may well think is very small. But in the Estimate for 1949–50 that figure is reduced to £380,000. These are paltry figures, and I ask the Committee particularly to observe the drop this year compared to last and to remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has forbidden any Supplementary Estimates. Therefore, there can be no increase. The Minister cannot wriggle out of this; he has budgeted to do worse this year than last, and his master, the Chancellor has told him that he must stick to his budget.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I hope the Committee realises that the hon. Member is now quoting Estimates, and not actual payments. Payments now, as before the war, lag behind the actual work done by a considerable margin.

Mr. Eccles

I entirely agree, but I am giving the Committee an estimate. These are the only hard figures we have; all the other figures from the Ministry are paper figures. This represents money going out and work done. I want to make a calculation based on what the hon. Gentleman has just said. Suppose the total value of work done is four times the grant. That is very generous, because we expected the Ministry's grant to be one-third of the capital cost. This means that in 1949–50 the total value of work done will be only £1½ million.

That is a very low figure. I ask the Committee to realise that it is quite unsatisfactory. How far is this low figure the inevitable result of shortage of materials and labour? Again, it is hard to give exact comparisons, but the Committee will be interested to learn that the export of cast-iron pipes in the year 1947 was valued at £2,400,000, and the export of cast-iron pipes—I am taking only the sizes suitable for water schemes—was valued at not less than £3,600,000 in 1948. Will the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply, be good enough to give us the value of the pipes going into water schemes in England and Wales? That is the figure we want for comparison. I believe that if we had it we should see that any suggestion that exports have not interfered with domestic water consumption in the rural areas is sheer nonsense.

I have drawn attention to these export figures because those who live in the countryside, and indeed those who go to party conferences, ought to be aware of the way in which Ministers, by deciding priorities between this demand and that demand for the same products, control the rate of progress in getting on with water supplies in this country. On this side of the Committee we say that the Minister has misjudged the crying need for water. That is why he has failed to get the priorities out of his colleagues which we think that rural water deserves. I do not believe that the Parliamentary Secretary dare give us figures for work done or likely to be done this year. The reason is that he knows that too many of the schemes which are actually in hand are held up by thoroughly bad planning of materials. The Ministry of Supply lets him down every time. In Anglesey, for instance, where what I imagine to be the largest rural water scheme under construction at the moment is in hand, I am told that the whole place is littered with straight pipes. Time and again, work is at a standstill because there are no "specials," no angles and bends. They are not there to match the straight sections and, therefore, the whole work is at a standstill. The same is true of valves. If I can use the jargon of planners, valves, too, are "hopelessly out of phase."

If we were to examine the exports of pipes should we find that pipes sent to the Middle East and to Africa went without "specials" and without valves? I very much doubt it. I think that we should find that England and Wales get the dirty end of the stick every time. My hon. Friends may well think that a bird in the hand is worth two in the Kongwa bush. What goes for materials, goes also for labour. The final authorisation of a water scheme has to be held up until the labour required can be found within the maximum quota allowed for work on water in the region concerned. The Committee must know that these minute sub-divisions of the presumed labour force into paper allocations for this type of work and that type of work are nothing better than the fanciful figurings of overcentralised statisticians. Any robust man such as the Minister of Health could, if he wished, brush them aside in 30 seconds.

The Opposition's case, and we put it in all seriousness, is that these two water Acts which completely revolutionise the powers at the command of the Minister have not been given a full and fair trial. The result is that progress in the rural areas has been slow and really, if the Minister's estimates mean anything at all, it is bound to be slow this year. The Minister has all the powers to go faster but, for some reason, he chooses to hang back. My view is that he does not use his opportunities because he considers other matters—housing and the National Health Service—of far more importance. That is why he is not here today. If the right hon. Gentleman had insisted that resources equal to half the labour, half the money and half the materials that have been diverted to the groundnut scheme by the Minister of Food, had gone into rural water supplies at home, what a vast change there would have been in our countryside. I merely take the groundnut scheme as an example of a large capital project to which we are committed. I hope to see both the groundnut scheme and the tools for the production of food at home provided by an intelligent Government.

The trouble is that the low priority given to water schemes in this country was, and is, a thoroughly bad decision by the Government. All that was wanted after the war, with the new Acts on the Statute Book, was enthusiasm and administrative drive. In the event, the new machinery has gone to work very slowly and hesitatingly and at every stage the Minister has been in control of the rate of progress. It is time that we raised a loud protest about the deliberate policy of "go-slow" on water. If the Minister should dare to say that the policy is not deliberate, I will ask him one simple question: Why is it that no special priority has ever been given to the materials required for water schemes in our countryside? Priority has been given to coal mining, to electrical generation and to the development areas, but it has not been given to food production. The refusal of that priority is an act of policy which means "go-slow on water because it is of second-rate importance." There is no dodging that.

We are told that the Labour Party intend to try to cover up this policy by a political campaign for the nationalisation of water. They will not be serving their constituents well. Already this threat unsettles the water undertakers and those who have plans for expanding supply. I am certain that if it is persisted in, country women and farmers will, as a sheer matter of practical economics, have to wait longer for their water than otherwise they would. Nationalisation can do nothing but throw into chaos the machinery which has not yet been tried out. Anyone who has studied this matter knows that no changes in the law are required. All the powers are there. What is required are pipes and pumping machinery and a new sense of urgency in the Minister and his Department. I ask the Committee, as a result of this Debate, to insist that the Government put water high on their list and begin to make amends for a sorry story of calculated delays and administrative incompetence.

7.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)

I think it would be convenient to the Committee if I were to intervene at this point to give some information which the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) clearly requires, and which the Committee would naturally desire to have, and which will be helpful, I am sure, later in the Debate. The hon. Member for Chippenham is, of course, a member of the Central Water Advisory Committee which has done some very valuable work during these last two or three years and whose sub-committees have produced a series of most valuable reports which have been made available to water authorities throughout the country.

I think it is fair to say that the hon. Member for Chippenham takes a rather more useful and constructive line on that committee than he does when he contributes to the "Daily Mail," or when he makes speeches such as he has made in this Committee today, alleging delay by the Ministry of Health in developing water supplies in this country. He knows so well the difficulties of the present situation and he knows well, though he cloaked it, the complete lack of any activity in past years by hon. Members opposite when they had the full opportunity of carrying out the work. Of course, I realise that he pointed out that the provisions of the 1945 Act gave further powers to the Minister of Health. That is perfectly true, but it hedged those powers around so carefully that it has proved in practice very difficult to move as quickly with the large numbers of authorities involved as would clearly be desirable. Of course, it is also very true that the limitation of supplies and of labour, to which I will come in detail in a moment, are factors which we certainly cannot omit from our calculations.

It is, I think, about 11 months since the House had an opportunity of discussing this subject, and then my predecessor, the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, forecast that by the end of the financial year it would be found that the year's output had been substantially better than that of the best year before the war. We are, I agree, here discussing authorisations. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite want to see the Ministry of Health carry out the full projects themselves—whether they are pressing that—but it is certainly true that we are dealing here, first of all, with the question of the actual authorisations given.

When my hon. Friend made that statement 11 months ago, it was received, I understand, with some doubt and some incredulity. It was thought it would be impossible, so shortly after the war, to achieve a figure of authorisations greater than the best year before the war; but I am glad to say that forecast has proved to be completely correct. The value of schemes finally authorised during the year ended 31st March, after full allowance has been made for the increased cost of schemes today, is a great deal in excess of peak pre-war years. One must remember that in those pre-war years there were none of the limiting factors that we have to face today.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

Before the hon. Gentleman goes on, can he say how many of the schemes authorised have actually been started? What percentage?

Mr. Blenkinsop

The great bulk of the schemes authorised have, of course, been started, but if hon. Members opposite wish us to keep a complete check of every scheme authorised they must be prepared to face the extra expense of officials of our Department which, on the expenditure side, they always refuse, or try to refuse, to sanction. But the valid point that we must make in this discussion today is that when we are comparing, as we have the right to compare, the authorisation work today with that in those pre-war years, we must remember that at that time there was certainly no shortage of labour. There were then many hundreds of thousands out of work, and there were comparatively few competing demands from urban areas, whereas today the demand from those areas after the long period of the war is very real, and, what is more, we are faced today with considerable pressure from a great variety of other urgent needs. The hon. Member for Chippenham referred to some of them, and it would be fantastic to suggest that water supplies for rural areas must be given an overriding priority over all other needs. For example, there is the urgent need for power stations, for oil refineries, and for a great variety of other things, of which I think everyone knows perfectly well.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

With regard to water supplies, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that there are areas in my Division where the water is impure and unfit to drink. Does he suggest that there should be no priority for having that situation remedied?

Mr. Blenkinsop

I entirely agree that there is every reason why we should press on most actively with the problem of impure supplies as well as with the problem of supplies as a whole. But we must keep in mind the other urgent needs of the community as well, and it is quite fantastic to suggest that any one proposal should have complete priority over everything else. The hon. Member for Chippenham mentioned the export figures of certain supplies. We need to face the fact that the necessity for our exports is very real. We must export to pay for our essential imports. If our industry is to run, and if we as a people are to live, then we must allow the diversion of supplies of some goods—plant, etc.—abroad. Indeed, it is absolutely vital to do this, for if we do not allow these exports to continue we may lose vital export markets in the future.

It is worth while mentioning here that the value of rural schemes approved in the pre-war peak year of 1935–36 was £2,500,000, whereas the value of schemes already authorised and ready to go ahead for the year 1948–49 was over £6 million, which shows that the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Chippenham were inaccurate.

Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)

Will the hon. Gentleman give us separate figures for Wales?

Mr. Blenkinsop

I am quite willing to give the separate figures for Wales if the hon. Member will put down a Question about it.

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned values; he mentioned the years 1935–36 and 1948–49, and he quoted £2,500,000 and £6 million. Are those correct values or true values at the dates given, and will the hon. Gentleman translate them into modern costs?

Mr. Blenkinsop

Allowing for the increased cost, there is no question that the figure of authorisations today is substantially in excess of pre-war. Therefore, it is quite clear that, in spite of the difficulties which did not exist in the past, and in spite of the fact that in those years hon. Members opposite were so callous of the whole agricultural interests of the country that they were not prepared to develop either the agricultural schemes or the water schemes, or, indeed, in other ways to meet the urgent needs of the community, we have been able considerably to increase the amount of work which is being put in hand. In those days, also, there were no competing demands.

This, of course, is certainly not the full story. The total value of schemes finally authorised—schemes that are now ready to go ahead or which have, in fact, gone into operation—from the end of the war to the present day amount to some £11 million worth. That is as against £5 million worth which my hon. Friend was able to mention to the House some 11 months ago.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but to get these figures quite clear may I ask him this question? He keeps referring to "schemes authorised" and "schemes finally authorised." Could he give us the figures for the schemes actually begun?—because it is of little use to have a scheme authorised if there are no pipes available with which to begin it.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The figures that I have given are figures for final authorisation after which the work can go ahead without further delay. The question of supplies has already been dealt with prior to the final authorisation. I would mention that in addition to those figures for final authorisation, schemes read to go to tender amount to another £1 million worth, and schemes approved in principle and in the final stages of planning are estimated to cost a further £10 million. Hon. Members opposite smile about this as if it were of no concern that these schemes should be properly planned and prepared in advance. It is clear that when hon. Members opposite had any control of the matter they certainly did not care for the effective planning of these schemes. I do not see why we should not insist that that should now be done.

The total value of work authorised and approved in principle, including all the work that is going on, now totals some £22 million worth. It is worth commenting that in a White Paper "A National Water Policy," dated April, 1944, it is stated that pre-war grant schemes produced work to a value of £6 million in the period from 1934 to the date of the publication of that White Paper. Again, the totals that I have given of £22 million do not include small schemes carried out for new rural housing. They do not include the large schemes designed chiefly for urban needs, which will also be a very valuable further provision for the rural areas. For example, there are works under construction or recently authorised for 16 large urban authorities at an estimated total cost of some £12,500,000, and these will eventually afford supplies to the whole or parts of no fewer than 60 rural districts. In addition, there are the grants from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture for farm supplies, and the total value of approved schemes for farm houses and cottages, buildings and fields is now little less than £8 million worth since 1941, or £4,750,000 since 1945.

During the 20 inter-war years that ended in March, 1939, loans sanctioned by the Department for rural water supplies amounted only to £13 million. I think it is fair to say that, as I think Mrs. Malaprop said, "Comparisons are oderous," and perhaps that is a fair comment to make about some rural water supplies. More encouraging than this is the speed-up of the work during the last 12 months, because from the end of the war until 31st March, 1948, some 847 schemes at a total estimated cost of £3.8 million were finally authorised. During the 12 months ended 31st March last, the number of schemes finally authorised was 834, at a total estimated cost of over £6 million, which is not far short of twice the value of work finally approved during the previous 2½ years. Again that fulfils the estimate that was made by my hon. Friend 11 months ago. This is, in fact, also the first year in our local government history in which the rural areas have been given the major share of the work in comparison with the population. There has been a very real change in the proportion of work undertaken in the rural areas in comparison with the urban areas, and that is steadily proceeding.

In addition to all the work to which I have referred—that is, in addition to the work that has been finally authorised and is in a late stage of planning—there are a large number of schemes which local authorities are preparing the cost of which is of the order of a further £21 million or £22 million. Most of those have not yet gone through the provisions of the 1945 Act for local inquiry, nor has there been opportunity for opposition by the interests affected. It is perfectly true that the provisions of the 1945 Act—the opportunity that is given for protest and objection, the need for public inquiry in very many cases and the difficulty of securing the combination of the many separate water authorities—undoubtedly delay the procedure. That is a matter which gives the Department concern, as indeed it does everyone else, but the procedure has been clearly laid down in the 1945 Act, and no one can complain if that procedure is fully carried out.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Could the hon. Gentleman say at which stage of the procedure, if he is blaming the procedure, delay occurs? As far as I have been able to discover, it is always at the Ministry of Health.

Mr. Blenkinsop

That is perfectly untrue. I notice that suggestions of that kind are often made, but no concrete evidence is ever given. Hon. Members opposite like to put forward all sorts of general and vague suggestions of that kind, but when we very naturally ask them for detailed cases so that we can investigate them and give hon. Members the advantage of the facts about them, we never find that we can get those details from hon. Members Opposite. I shall be very glad to investigate any individual cases of this kind where undue delay by the Department is alleged. That is the only way in which one can track down difficulties of any kind. I invite hon. Members opposite to give us the information of individual cases of that nature.

Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)

Surely, if the Parliamentary Secretary is taking this line about information, hon. Members sitting for various rural districts are not likely to know about more than one thing directly. The hon. Gentleman must be able to know. Will he now tell us what is the average delay between the receipt of an application at his office and the answer? Does it, on the average, take one month or two months or 10 months, or what? No one but he could know that, and can he please tell us?

Mr. Blenkinsop

This is completely valueless because it depends entirely upon the type of scheme that is being put forward. Hon. Members opposite are the very first to attack us if we have not given proper consideration to the variety of other interests which are very often involved in the schemes presented to us. But we do want to have evidence of delays in particular schemes so that we can investigate them. It is quite true that schemes which are being proceeded with today, and for which complete authorisation has been given, vary very greatly from large schemes to those which are of a more minor character, but which are of great value to the local areas concerned.

An example of the larger schemes promoted is that proposed by the North Devon Water Board, a board which covers about half of the county. This scheme was approved in principle in 1947 and final authorisation was given in the following year. The first instalment of the scheme, costing some £696,000, is now in progress. That work includes intake treatment plant and works for some 60 miles of mains. Now as hon. Members opposite sometimes make the charge against my Department that we are suffering from some sort of megalomania about large water schemes as against smaller water schemes which, they sometimes allege, would provide more water more quickly, I should point out that this board, as in so many similar cases, are also carrying out interim schemes for urgent local requirements. Fourteen of these schemes, estimated to cost some £95,000, are either completed or nearing completion. Another five are in hand and another six approved. It is hoped that a start will be made towards the end of the year on the second instalment of this Devon scheme, which is estimated to cost some £825,000.

Another point which has been raised is whether or not there is adequate discussion between the Departments concerned on the subject of the schemes which are brought before us. It is, indeed, essential that agricultural interests should be properly safeguarded and watched in the development of these proposals. That is precisely what was so often neglected in the past, for in going forward with many smaller schemes very often the possibility of providing water supplies for agricultural use as well as for housing purposes was neglected. Today we find that by devoting at any rate a large part of our attention to larger schemes, which will benefit agricultural interests as well as the householder, we are doing very much more valuable work than was done at the time when schemes were introduced without effective planning or consideration of the needs of the area as a whole.

Grants already promised for water supply up to the present, since the end of the war, amount to just under £4 million. It has been suggested by the hon. Member for Chippenham this evening that there is some discrepancy between the actual payments that have been made, and the progress that we are claiming is being made, on the one hand, and the work in progress, on the other hand, and it is true that the estimated payments up to date amount to some £250,000 while the estimates for 1949–50 amount to some £350,000. Hon. Members opposite are claiming that that shows there is little work, in fact, being carried out.

They should realise the reasons for the discrepancy between the amount actually being paid out in grants and the work in progress. First, there is the simple reason that very many of the schemes are not grant-earning. Where there are smaller interim schemes, which involve very little loss to the local authority or the water undertaking, it is often agreed that the small loss shall be taken into account in calculating the grant when later schemes are considered. Another very good reason is that first instalments are normally paid when work to the value of half of the estimated total has been completed. The second instalment is paid on completion of the work.

It is perfectly true, as hon. Members have said, that works today take longer to complete than they did before the war. That is for the very simple reason, with which I shall deal in a moment or two, that delays occur in the provision of labour and of materials; but final payment depends upon when the local authority makes its application. The final payment to contractors is not due until the final certificates have been given by the council's engineers, and it has been the custom in the past, just as it is the custom today, that these payments may lag behind the completion of schemes for periods of up to well over a year. That is why we shall not see the effect, in the actual payment of grants, of the amount of work now being undertaken for some little time ahead, but it does not mean that the work is not being carried out.

Mr. Eccles

I grant the Parliamentary Secretary's assumption for the sake of argument, but could he then explain the drop in 1949–50 by comparison with 1948–49?

Mr. Blenkinsop

There is no drop in the actual payments. I have given the figure for the actual payments today. The total payments to date amount to some £241,000. The estimated payments for 1949–50 amount to some £357,000. So, far from there being any drop, there is, in fact, an increase in the actual value of the work being done. Where the hon. Member is confused is that he is comparing the estimates for previous years with the actual amount of the payments which have been made and it is perfectly true that the amount of payments which have been made have been considerably less than was originally estimated.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)

The Parliamentary Secretary is also confused, because he is comparing the payments actually made with what he estimates will be paid in the future. He is falling into the same error.

Mr. Blenkinsop

It is quite true that difficulties in supply were underestimated, but it is quite clear from the work now in hand that we shall require this total sum of £357,000. It is also perfectly clear that the sum will continue to increase rapidly with the amount of work which is now being undertaken. It is a very simple matter, of which hon. Members opposite should have had a great deal of experience in the past.

Let me mention the difficulties which exist. First, there is the question of labour supplies. Hon. Members know the many demands which are being made today upon the labour force. The Ministry of Health are in close touch with the Ministry of Works and it is very heartening to know that there has been a steady improvement during the past year in the amount of labour which has been made available for water supplies. We hope that the schemes which are going ahead today will not be held up for that reason in the future.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Surely the Parliamentary Secretary should be able to give some complete figures. Simply to say that there has been an improvement is not sufficient; surely he can give some figures.

Mr. Blenkinsop

No doubt we could do that later. We shall see whether the figures are available.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I do not wish to delay the Parliamentary Secretary, but he must surely agree that, when he is challenged on the question of the labour force, simply to say there has been an improvement, without giving any starting or finishing figures, is not enough. The Committee would like to know what is the labour force at work upon these schemes and how much it has improved over the period.

Mr. Blenkinsop

It must be perfectly clear that there have been delays because of the shortage of labour in the past, but these are largely being overcome because of the help being given by the Ministry of Labour. That seems to me perfectly clear. It is also true that there have been difficulties in the supply of materials, but not in the supply of straight cast iron piping. That is where hon. Members opposite seem to fall in error. They seem to suggest that the large export of straight cast iron piping is holding up the work on water supplies. That is not so. Delay such as occurs is due more to the shortage of specials and bends, which are not, in fact, being exported. I am glad to be able to say that arrangements have been made with the Ministry of Supply, and with the manufacturers through the Ministry of Supply, to bring the production of bends and specials into gear with the production of straight piping.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

It is only straight pipes that are being exported?

Mr. Blenkinsop

They are being exported. Plenty of other things are being exported, as the hon. Member ought to know. The point here is that there are very real difficulties in increasing the production of specials and bends in the factories, and these are now being overcome. With regard to the production of valves, there has been a good increase since 1946, and the figures are still increasing, but it may be some time before the demand can be overtaken. We are doing everything we can through the Ministry of Supply to increase production, and, of course, standardisation is being fully considered.

It is exactly the same case with the supply of pumps. I agree that pumps are being exported, but will hon. Members opposite say that no export of pumps should be undertaken? Are they prepared to face the real difficulties that would be involved if we were not to get the supplies back from abroad that that export brings us? That is the sort of challenge that must be made to hon. Members opposite. They lightly say, "You should not export so many, but should devote more to work at home." They never face the actual need to consider what they would cut down in this way. The oil refinery programme at home, power stations—all are urgently needed if we are still to meet our currency problems. I should have thought hon. Members opposite would have appreciated that fact.

It is true, however, that the need for the development of our piped water supplies is fully appreciated by our Department, as, indeed, is shown by the figures I have quoted, which show how enormously the work of the Department has developed in this field, and which show a striking comparison between the work the Ministry has carried out during this period and that in past periods when the difficulties I have referred to did not exist. I think that the Government can fairly take pride in the amount of work that has been undertaken in this period in spite of all the difficulties. It is still true to say that there is indeed very much to be done, but the people of the countryside can be assured that this Government and its Labour successor will press on with the work for rural supplies, which was sadly neglected in the past by all previous Administrations.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Lambert (South Molton)

I am afraid the Parliamentary Secretary has not convinced me that he realises how urgent is the need for the supply of rural water. In his speech he harped back to the past. He pointed out the difficulties that faced him, and he rather smugly said, "We are putting a higher priority on rural water as opposed to urban water." That, surely, is not surprising, because most towns have an adequate water supply. My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), in a first class speech, said every cottage should have a tap of water. In my constituency this summer, far from every cottage having a water tap, many villages will have no water at all. This is not due to neglect in the past, but to the fact that the consumption of water is going up quickly each year. In the years from 1938 to 1948 the consumption of water in London, I understand, went up from 30 gallons a head to nearly 60 gallons. It has gone up in the same degree in the countryside. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Even in the cottages whither water has to be carried in buckets from a village well consumption has gone up. In many cases water closets that flush have been put into these cottages, and for that purpose alone probably as much water is used as was used by the whole cottage household in years gone by.

Again, to produce milk a large quantity of water is required. In a small village not 10 miles from where I live a farmer has recently acquired a herd of 20 T.T. cows. His farm is on a small private water scheme. He is now using 400 gallons of water a day—20 gallons of water per cow—and has thrown the scheme completely out of balance. The problem is that with the increasing demand in the countryside for water, supplies, which were sufficient in the past, are no longer sufficient, and the position has been further aggravated because there have been two years of exceptionally dry weather. Already wells are running dry which normally provide water in adequate quantities throughout the year.

Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, Northern)

That is not the fault of the Labour Government.

Mr. Lambert

It seems particularly hard to me that my own constituents, who have done their best to produce extra milk, should be penalised because to produce extra milk they have to use more water. The people of Devon in the past have been very discerning in their selection of county councillors. They slipped up a little in 1946; six Socialists were elected.

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

That is why they have water supplies.

Mr. Lambert

At the last election they were all thrown out except one. Before the Socialists were elected in 1946, the Devon County Council paid great attention to the provision of water in Devon. I was most interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary describe the North Devon Water Board. Under that scheme, thought of long before the Socialists came into power, 1,300 square miles of North Devonshire were to be provided with piped water. The Parliamentary Secretary said the scheme was to be carried out in two instalments, the first instalment to complete the water works, and two mains from the waterworks at Prewley on Dartmoor to Huntshaw Cross and from there across from North Devon to East Devon to the village of Rackenford. The waterworks are going ahead. Work on the first main however was due to begin on 1st July, 1948, but work could not start until the 1st March of this year because there were no pipes available. Even now the scheme cannot be completed because there is a shortage for that particular main of 50 valves. The secondary main across North Devon cannot be started because no supplies of pipes and valves are available.

The second instalment is to supply water to my own village and to villages nearer to Dartmoor. It is impossible to say when it can be begun let alone completed. The Ministry of Health says that it must not be started until the progress on the first instalment justifies it. The total scheme of the North Devon Water Board will require about 100 miles of pipes. I gather that pipes to supply 50 such schemes have already been exported. I realise that there is an urgent necessity to export, but I wonder whether it is wise that hard-earned currency should be spent on Colonial developments, such as the groundnut scheme, which the hon. Member for Chippenham mentioned. I believe that if it is not possible to develop both the Colonies and this country, charity should begin at home, and British agriculture should be given the first call on our resources of men and materials.

Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)

Would the hon. Gentleman tell the House, and incidentally the country, why, when there were thousands of men unemployed and plenty of material was rotting on the scrap heaps, these things were not carried out by his party or the Conservative Party in power?

Mr. Lambert

I am afraid that I should be out of Order if I discussed that matter. The thing that interests my constituents is when they are to get tap water. I say quite definitely that we should have made a far better investment, with a much quicker and more lasting dividend, if any resources that were available for development had been given to British agriculture, and in particular to agriculture in Devonshire.

8.23 p.m.

Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

I would like to say a few words about the provision of water supplies in rural districts. The Committee will forgive me, I am sure, if I turn my attention to the great nation of Wales. I did mention this subject during the Welsh Debate, but I did not enlarge upon it. I hoped that an opportunity would come whereby we could discuss these problems together. I want to deal with the agricultural side and the domestic side. May I point out to hon. Members opposite the legacy that was left to this Government, by quoting the figures from the National Farm Survey of 1941–43. In Wales itself, only 32 per cent. of the farm houses had a piped water supply. Only 23 per cent. had a piped water supply to the farm buildings. Only 7 per cent. of the fields had a piped water supply. That means that in respect of 8 per cent. of the farmhouses there is no record of where they get their water. Neither is there any record of where they get their water in respect of 46 per cent. of the farm buildings. It is probably derived from the heavens. The position stated in the report with regard to the fields is very damaging indeed. The report, referring to seasonal shortages, says that the area most approaching a black spot is strangely enough Wales, where there is the highest rainfall. All Welsh counties, except Flint, show figures of shortage well above the average.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the figure of 7 per cent. in regard to fields. Does he mean each separate meadow or the fields attached to each separate farm?

Mr. Watkins

The fields attached to each separate farm.

I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, because we are voting money for his Department, what has been done since that survey to provide a water supply for farm-houses and farm buildings. I know what the position is in Wales from year to year according to the Welsh White Paper, but I would like to get the figures up to date. On the domestic side, in the last Welsh White Paper we were informed that schemes provisionally approved for grant numbered 48 and those finally approved for grant numbered 38, but only four schemes had been completed and 20 were under construction. That is not too good a figure and I am wondering where the fault lies. Are the schemes being held up by the Welsh Board of Health or are they not being put forward by the councils? In my constituency it is not the fault of the Welsh Board of Health; it is the fault of the councils. This is a fine opportunity for someone on this side of the Committee to reply to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles).

In the first Welsh White Paper, we were told that there were 209,000 rural properties, of which 84,000 were without a proper water supply. It also told us that a comprehensive plan was envisaged for the whole of Wales. I would like to know how far that plan has gone. I would also like to know how many of the counties in Wales have had a water supply survey. We were told that they had not all submitted a survey some two years ago. A survey was also promised of the development areas which encroach on the rural districts. What is the position with regard to that survey at the present time?

Members will forgive me if I now revert to the position in my own constituency. I think that I have the right to refer to it, because it is an area covering 770,466 acres. Some may say that we cover nearly the whole of Wales. I asked the Minister of Health in December, 1946, how many parishes in my two counties were without a piped water supply? There were 21 in the County of Brecon and 14 in the County of Radnor. I made it my business to find out who was responsible for this situation.

I found that in Radnorshire, where it is estimated that there are about 36,000 cattle at the present time, that houses without a piped water supply numbered 2,255 out of 3,962. It is a remarkable and a shameful thing that in Christian Wales 2,910 of these houses are without a w.c. Who is responsible for that? I represent in this House 11 rural district councils. There are some of them which I would commend to the House by way of reply to points raised by the Opposition today. In Colwyn Rural District 54 per cent. of the houses are without a piped water supply, with no sewerage scheme at all, and only 23 houses with baths. This is in 1949. In New Radnor 75 per cent. of the population are without a water supply. There is no existing works of sewerage and sewerage disposal plant. At Rhayader—and hon. Members of this House will know that from Rhayader comes the great Birmingham Corporation water supply—outside the parish of Rhayader itself, 66 per cent. of the population are without piped water. Birmingham Corporation makes provision for any council along its route wanting a water supply, but all of them do not take the advantage of this offer which they should.

In Presteign, a town with an estimated population of 1,100, the water supply is derived from a private water company. It is extraordinary to find from the engineer's report that the level of the meadow, whence comes the source, is below that of the river. It can easily be understood from where they get their water supply when the river is in flood. When a visit was paid by an engineer not long ago, it was found that water from the neighbouring ditches was going into the water supply. Is it any wonder that people like myself rose at the Labour Party Conference and asked the Minister of Health to speed up the scheme for the nationalisation of water supplies?

In the county in which I live, from a question answered by the Minister of Education some time ago, I find that 19 primary schools get their water from springs, and six are without a supply at all on the school premises. That is the legacy left to us as a Government. In the district council area of Brecon in 1946, 61 samples were taken of various water supplies, and 18 of them were found unsatisfactory. Of those 18 unsatisfactory samples, nine were the responsibility of the council. That is where the difficulty lies. In most of the cases I have quoted no plans have been submitted to the Minister of Health for a better water scheme. What I am asking the Committee to do is to impress on the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary the necessity of getting these local authorities to do their duty according to the Acts, or the power of default ought to be applied to them instantly.

Neighbouring towns and cities take a water supply from an area, but I do not think that that should be allowed unless provision is made for the local people. If the local council is not prepared to do it, the Minister of Health himself should insist on the place having a water supply. One of the results of the lack of water is that housing sites are not placed in convenient areas. This has a great effect not only on the cost, but on the convenience of people who want houses. I hope the Minister of Health will speed up these schemes, and will either undertake them himself or ginger up some of the local authorities.

One hon. Member opposite said that there was no priority for any kind of scheme. From my information I understand that priority is given for electricity, if that electricity is used in a small scheme to provide a water supply in a village. That is a very good way of getting water supplies in rural areas. What I am afraid of is that the £15 million provided by the Minister some years ago will have all gone, unless something is done to give us a good water supply for the rural districts. I hope that this Committee will urge the Minister to get something done to waken up local authorities. If there is a fault with a local authority it should be gingered up, so that we should have, as the hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) said, a tap in every house. And not only do we want that—we want a water supply in each village.

8.35 p.m.

General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)

I should like to draw attention to the fact that, whoever may have been listening to the phrases used by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), or will listen to the criticism that may come from this side, there is no representative present from the Ministry of Health, so far as one can see. Powers exist for the provision of water schemes, if the Ministry will use them. There are too many people who think that the provision of water supplies is simple, even in districts where they have not been developed on a large scale or where they are undeveloped. There are many people, especially town-bred people, who think that all that is required is to have a tap and to turn it on, and that the water will at once come. In that case, they are likely to be disappointed when it comes to the point of action in getting a water supply.

To such people I say that when water has been laid on, much waste would be prevented if the supply were charged for by meter, according to the amount used, rather than by a charge on the rateable value or by a fixed amount for the supply to the premises. If water were paid for by meter more care would be used in consuming it. It has been suggested that rural district councils have not made the necessary efforts to fulfil their duty of seeing that adequate supplies of water are available in their districts. I cannot speak for counties other than my own, but Hampshire's rural district councils have not only made great efforts but, in a number of cases, have made remarkably successful efforts to get water supplies laid on.

Apart from the action of district councils, there are differences among the districts affecting the ease or otherwise of getting a water supply. Some districts have deep well supplies only, while others have surface water supplies which are much more easily got at and laid on. The expenditure in those two cases is very different. As in all cases of undertakings by local authorities, those authorities have not the last word in the initiation of water schemes, which have to be approved by their county councils and subsequently by the Ministry of Health. Not infrequently, the Ministry take what seems to be an unconscionable time before giving approval. When approval has been given, more often than not there is great difficulty in getting pipes and other materials and the supplies of labour necessary to carry out the work.

These difficulties are very real ones for the local authorities concerned, and it often seems to them and to those wanting supplies that the Ministry might do a great deal more to help, first, by accelerating approval of the schemes, secondly, by accelerating the provision of materials for those schemes and, thirdly, by making available the necessary labour. In spite of the necessity for export, I believe we should check the amount of pipes and materials exported so that they could be used to accelerate the provision of water schemes in this country. The necessary labour could be provided if a less rigid and cumbrous procedure were employed by the Ministry in making it available and in approving its provision.

The provision of rural water supplies is certainly not assisted by such schemes as the one now being promoted in my county of Hampshire and in the adjoining county of Berkshire, known as the Enborne scheme, for providing water for London. This, quite apart from draining the water supplies of Hampshire and quite apart from the enormous expense involved, will, if put into effect, permanently flood many thousands of acres of valuable and productive agricultural land. We hope that scheme will not be approved, we are opposing it, but it is obvious that, if schemes on that scale of expense are approved for the provision of water for towns many miles away, it will not assist—to put it mildly—the provision of water in adequate quantities is the counties from which the water is taken away.

Then there is the question of making the best use of potential water supplies. I believe that the action taken by the Hampshire County Council has been well worth while. That action was to cause a survey to be taken and a plan to be made of the actual and potential water supplies in the county. The making of this plan may have delayed for a time the provision of supplies in some cases, but it has been made now, and it shows clearly the supplies which are available and of which use can be made. Also it shows clearly how it may sometimes be undesirable to choose the simplest way of drawing water from some other district, because it is possible to rob Peter to pay Paul. So ultimately a comprehensive scheme for a large county like Hampshire should accelerate the provision of water on an adequate scale.

There is one other matter of importance to which I shall allude, and that is the question of co-operation between the county agricultural executive committees and local authorities as regards supplies to agricultural land and buildings. In most cases the committees have done their best and have laid on a great deal of water. In most cases they have been successful in their co-operation with local authorities, but I have heard of cases in which they have not been so successful, and I would urge that such co-operation is of great importance.

To sum up, approval of schemes by the Ministry ought to be accelerated, there should be more assistance in the provision of materials and labour, and further powers to approve and facilitate the carrying out of schemes should be given by a process of devolution from the Ministry to county councils. I believe that if the Ministry were to devolve more powers to approve schemes upon county councils, there would be acceleration of schemes and the county councils would be found worthy of the responsibility so placed upon them.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles, Southern)

The importance of water supplies in rural areas cannot be too strongly emphasised. The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfleld (Sir G. Jeffreys) is always listened to with the greatest amount of respect. His moderation is commendable and everyone will give praise for the sound sense which always permeates his pronouncements in this House. I always like to listen to his colleague the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), although I thought tonight he sounded rather hollow. In attempting to focus the blame for the lack of rural water supplies on the present Government, I am sure he fell very flat. While he was speaking there ran through my mind some verses by Macaulay: But hark! the cry is Aster: And lo! the ranks divide; And the great Lord of Luna Comes with his stately stride. Quoth he, 'The she-wolf's litter Stands savagely at bay: But will ye dare to follow. If Aster clears the way?' My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) adequately tore to ribbons any chance the hon. Member for Chippenham had of focusing responsibility for the condition of rural water supplies or the lack of rural water supplies on the present Government. I can assure hon. Members opposite that this matter is a very acute question North of the Border. In the last half century we have seen houses drowned in water where there was none to drink. We have seen railway cottages where the railwaymen have had to get in water by means of water cans on six days a week and on the seventh, because there was no train running, there was no water. In another district there were artesian wells to which people had to travel half a mile to get water. The streams also were a source of supply in some districts.

Everyone will agree that if an epidemic breaks out, especially in England, medical men nine times out of 10 put their finger on the source of infection as an inadequate or impure water supply. The hon. Member for Chippenham doubted whether there was any hold-up in the supply of pipes, specials, and so on. I draw the attention of hon. Members opposite to Monday's issue of "The Scotsman" where they will find the report of Glenfield and Kennedy, probably the best makers of hydrants and valves in Britain. Hon. Members will find that they are doing well nowadays, although 15 years ago they were not doing so well. Today they are doing splendidly. But delivery is many months ahead. I have some experience in regard to the laying of water pipes, and I know that in the days of a Tory Government the men of Falkirk could not get employment moulding pipes and bends. We have no unemployed today and the whole question is bound up with that of housing. Scotland requires 100,000 houses according to the capitalist Press. The moulders cannot keep up with the demand for rones, pipes, bends and specials. There is no question of doubt in regard to materials. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor pointed out, the day was when men who laid pipes either for water or for drainage were three a penny. I have seen that work done for a shilling an hour; we cannot get it done for that now. We cannot get the men, they are engaged in more congenial occupations.

The Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland is here, and I would like him to give us some of the figures which are applicable to Scotland, because although I know that much has been done since 1945 I also know of the great need that exists in Scotland. I know of a 24-inch pipe being laid from the great reservoir of Gladhousemill across the eastern portion of my constituency where there was previously no pure water supply. But that only touches the fringe of the problem which we have seen for half a century. Surely the present Labour Government cannot be expected to assume responsibility for the defects of 50 years ago? Yet in Peebles and Midlothian—and what Peebles and Midlothian think today the rest of Scotland will think tomorrow—we have great reservoirs. I should like an explanation of why it was that the great city of Edinburgh secured the watershed right down to Biggar and the great city of Glasgow cornered the fine water reservoir of Loch Katrine, while all the rural areas had to suffer in consequence.

The hon. Member for Chippenham sneered at the Labour Party annual conference, which is the most democratic piece of political machinery that this world has ever seen. I shall go to Blackpool and vote for the nationalisation of land and rivers. Possibly we shall again defeat the Minister of Health, as we have twice previously defeated him on tied cottages and the nationalisation of water. But we shall not defeat him here. Although he can stand at the Despatch Box, take all the bowling that the Opposition can give him and smack it all over the House, as he has so often done, when it comes to the annual conference of the Labour Party, he is like me, just a cypher. The rank and file say what has to be done, just as they did in 1945 at Blackpool, when they laid down "Let us Face the Future," which we have implemented——

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Bowles)

The hon. Gentleman should not go into too much of the history of the Labour Party conference. The discussion is confined to rural water.

Mr. Pryde

I was dealing with some of the phrases which have been used on the other side of the Committee. I know that we are not angels. Only last week an hon. Member opposite said in my constituency that the Prime Minister, myself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I was in the first three, as I hope I shall be on Saturday—were not angels. We in the mining fraternity have always been candid. We are never hypocritical; we call a spade a spade. I say in all sincerity that I would rather go to the devil with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer than contemplate spending eternity with that prize crop of synthetic angels, beer barons and "baccy" barons, landlords and landleeches who composed that warlock's cauldron in Peebles that Friday evening. I am surprised that there are not more Scottish Tory M.P.'s here tonight because——

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Where are the Scottish Labour M.P.s?

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

Where are the Scottish Tory Members?

Mr. Pryde

I hope that they are also interested in pure water. In asking the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to give us the figures for Scotland, may I say that we on this side know that although the country is struggling to get adequate water supplies, it will take a second strong Labour Government another five years in which to pull us all out of the mire and provide something like a proper supply.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)

It is almost 12 months since we had an opportunity of discussing this very vital subject. When the present Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor told us, a year ago, that an enormous amount of preparatory work had been done, I was led to hope that during the 10 or 11 months which would follow a great deal of practical work, which would contribute to a solution of our problem of water supplies, would be carried out. I am sorry to say, from my observations in my own area and from available statistics, that I cannot express other than intense disappointment at the present position. Further, I must say that the rather self-satisfied speech of the Parliamentary Secretary has not consoled me.

Several Members on both sides of the Committee have indulged in recriminations in this Debate, and although I do not dissociate myself from them in so far as they are accurate, do they really help in a Debate of this kind? The Parliamentary Secretary invoked the assistance of Mrs. Malaprop, and talked about comparisons. Comparisons are certainly valuable, but I do not think that a comparison between what has been done in the last 12 months with what was done 10, 15 or 20 years ago is of any real value. The true comparison should be between what is being done now and what remains to be done, between what is actually happening and the immensity of the problem. If that comparison is adopted, I do not believe that any Member of the Committee would be entitled to be other than disquieted by the position today.

There may be occasions when it may be of assistance to compare records of various parties, in which I would be only too glad to take part, but the questions that people in my area and other rural areas are asking are, "When shall we get an adequate supply of piped water? What is being done now? What will be done next year?" Judging by the present position their anxiety is fully justified. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) gave us some statistics about his own constituency, and I was very glad that he did because his figures are not peculiar to his own area; they are typical of rural Wales. I will not burden the Committee by giving comparable statistics for my area. Wales, in this respect, is a particularly black spot. Although some improvement has been made during the past year, the rate of development and sense of urgency have not been nearly sufficient. I detect a worsening of the position.

Immediately after the war, local authorities were possessed of a real sense of urgency in this matter. Many schemes were forwarded to the Minister. Local authorities generally were anxious to tackle the problem. But now we have a sense of frustration. Local authorities have lost some of the enthusiasm which they had a few years ago. I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor about the degree of responsibility. The local authorities have a measure of responsibility, but the Minister has a great responsibility also. This sense of frustration caused by delays in approving schemes and deciding on the amount of the grant, delays in the provision of technical experts and of materials and labour, is a matter for which the Minister must bear a substantial part of the responsibility, and these delays have brought about this lowering of the sense of urgency.

Mr. Tolley

Would the hon. Gentleman give some concrete illustrations of the delays and the responsibility with which he charges the Minister, rather than make bald statements?

Mr. Bowen

Yes. If hon. Members do not agree with me, I hope they will indicate their disapproval. I have tried to ascertain the reason why between the submission of a scheme and its implementation there are delays of many months, and in some cases years. The difficulty always is to put one's finger on the real fault. The local authorities throw the ball back to the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health either throws it back to them or blame difficulty over labour and materials.

What is clear is that, wherever the actual fault lies, the gap between the decision to carry out the scheme and its implementation is far too long. When one speaks to the local authority officials they talk of periods of two or three months between communications being sent to the Minister and replies being received. Whether or not those delays are justified, it is difficult to ascertain. Sometimes, no doubt, the fault is with the Minister; sometimes it is with the local authority, and sometimes it cannot be blamed on anyone.

Mr. Tolley

If the hon. Gentleman will give a specific case we shall be able to fix the blame. He has not given one.

Mr. Bowen

I can give a case from my own constituency in the village of Cilyn. It is now two years since a scheme was first submitted in respect of that area, but the people there are still without a drop of water from a piped supply. The Minister should know where the fault lies. He has all the facts at his disposal. I am not really concerned to attach blame. I am concerned to eliminate delay. We have been told that the machinery is there and that the difficulty is in the supply of labour and materials. I am not satisfied that the machinery is working properly. The time which the machine takes to work is quite inordinate.

I should like the Minister, in conjunction with the local authorities, to see whether some of these delays might be shortened very considerably. I do not think that the explanation for all these delays can be laid entirely on the labour and materials problem. Certainly in my area, in reference to small schemes, very considerable delay arises even when there is no labour problem and material is available. As I say, I should like the Minister to look again to see whether the machinery itself is the right machinery, and, if he is satisfied that it is, to inquire why there is all this delay in its working.

With regard to labour and materials, the Minister said, "What are you going to do? It is all a question of what you are going to give up by way of imports if you are going to reduce your exports of materials which could be used for water supplies." All of us who are deeply anxious about the problem ask that the supplies for the implementation of water schemes should be given a priority in accordance with the urgent need of those schemes.

Mr. Tolley

That does not answer the question.

Mr. Bowen

With great respect, it does. For example, the Parliamentary Secretary talked about schemes for the erection of oil-refining plants and for the erection of generating stations, and so on. What I would like to know is, if there is any question of priority between similar materials for those schemes and for water schemes, which has the priority?

Mr. Willis

The hon. Member asked himself the question, but he has not yet answered it.

Mr. Bowen

If it is a question of giving priority for pipes for a generating station or for an oil refinery, or for the supply of piped water to a village populated by people who have to walk perhaps a quarter of a mile to get water from an insanitary source, then I have no doubt at all which scheme should be given priority.

Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)

It should have been done years ago.

Mr. Bowen

All the more reason why it should be done now. I would sooner go short of light and power than short of clean water. As far as my area is concerned, the problem is particularly acute. The county I represent and the other two counties in the area have made a contribution second to none in England and Wales with regard to providing clean herds and increasing milk production. The agricultural community in that area say that the least that can be done for them in return is to try to expedite the provision of clean water.

The cry is heard that a greater effort should be made to produce cleaner milk, but if the people producing milk are to produce cleaner milk there must be an improvement in the water supply available to them. The anxiety I feel in the matter is this. The way the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with this question of priorities indicated to my mind—I hope I am wrong—that the provision of labour and materials for water supplies was a low priority. It that is not so, I hope we shall have some specific indication to the contrary. The scarcity of cast iron pipes has been referred to, and the same applies to galvanised and asbestos pipes. There is a hold-up all the time.

To my mind—that is why I spoke of this priority in those terms—the provision of adequate water supplies to rural areas would provide the solution of almost all the problems, or, at least, contribute to the solution of almost all the problems in our rural areas. In my area at the moment, new housing schemes have been held up because of the absence of water supplies. The reconditioning of houses has been held up because of the water supply position. The improvement in conditions under which milk is produced is being held up for the same reason. The problem of labour on farms, particularly the difficulty with regard to female labour, the burden placed upon the housewife and the agricultural worker's wife in running her household, and the whole problem of the depopulation of the rural areas, turns very largely upon this question. We shall not retain young people in the rural areas and we shall not provide an adequate labour force in agriculture unless we face up to this problem. The Minister should try to instil into the Government and into local authorities a far greater sense of urgency in this matter than exists at the moment.

9.11 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

The Minister seemed to me to confuse the issue on this very important point, on which I think all Members are agreed, namely, that it is vitally necessary to get water to the rural countryside. I should like to direct the Minister's mind back to the Debates that took place in 1943–44 during the passage of Acts concerning water. At that time all the criticism that was coming to the then Minister of Health was that £15 million which had been granted was not enough. The criticism which is now being made, and rightly so, is that, whether that is a sufficient amount or not, the Minister has not taken advantage of it.

The Minister's excuse, so far as I can see, was directed along these three lines: First, he said that we have now got to make up for 25 years of Tory misrule and all the rest of it. I do not think that is a very good excuse because I assure the Minister that I should have no patience with my hon. Friends in 1954 if they used the same argument and said that it was all due to five years of sulky Socialism. The hon. Gentleman's next excuse was that he thought that the Act under which he could get water to the rural countryside was rather slow in its working, and that it was difficult to work. I would like to know what the hon. Member would do to alter that Act in order to make it work that degree faster. The third excuse goes to the centre of the whole matter. He said, "This is a matter of priority; what schemes should be cut down in order to get on with the provision of water?" I think I am quoting accurately what he said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles).

Then he went on to the question of exports. I found that a very funny argument, coming from the representative of the Minister of Health. Quite apart from that, however, the importance of exports is fully recognised by all hon. Members. Let us see why it is important. It is important because it enables us to pay for the necessary imports, but what the Minister is making a mistake about is this: Our ability to get greater production of food and to get a greater intake into agriculture in order to get that greater production, depends on our ability to get water to the rural countryside. By getting on with that job he will save a far greater amount on imports than the amount obtained by the export of these very pipes the shortage of which is holding up the schemes.

To my mind the important matter under discussion at the moment is where exactly does the priority lie. I speak with some feeling because I do not think there has been a single Debate in this House on the question of water supply in which Cornwall has not been mentioned again and again by the Minister as being one of the most notable areas urgently in need of water.

Mr. Tolley

The Tories should have supplied it.

Mr. Marshall

That argument will not do; it is senseless. It is as if nationalisanon were some magical password which hon. Members opposite mention at different times and by which they think everything could be done.

I do not want to delay the Committee because there are several hon. Members who wish to take part in this Debate, but I want to make a point on this question of priority. If the priority of export—and I believe it to be so—is based a great deal on the question of raising the standard of life of this country, then that standard of life is related to food. The greatest increase which we can possibly bring about in that standard is the increased production of food in this country. That is my opinion. To my mind that increased production cannot be accelerated to any great degree except by the provision of feedingstuffs and the provision of water for rural districts. I am convinced that if these matters are dealt with fairly quickly, then, indeed, we shall get the intake into the rural districts. Moreover, we shall give the people what they need and the things to which they have every right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham quite rightly pointed out that if we asked everybody living in the countryside what was their greatest priority they would most definitely state that it was water. To my mind, in order to provide water quickly we have to bear in mind the relation of water to electricity. I believe that that is the only method by which we can bring this about quickly—by getting electricity into the rural districts. After all, farms are scattered and we cannot alter the fact that they are scattered. It is easier to bring wires across the country than to deal with the whole question of piping. The provision of electricity and the production of pumps are, I think, the only quick methods by which we can bring about the supply of the existing needs to the remote areas.

I sincerely trust that the Minister will address his mind to this matter and will realise, when considering the priorities which are given to exports, that the priority for water for the countryside is a priority ultimately towards lessening the amount of imports we require and is of precisely the same importance as the exports he has mentioned.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)

I have listened with very great interest to the Debate so far and I am glad that it has been held. There can be no shadow of doubt that one of the most pressing problems in the minds of the Government at the present time is the question of water supplies for rural areas. I have listened to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite speaking, but we must remember that the past has something to do with the present and the future. It may be that at last, for certain reasons, hon. Members opposite find there are advantages which make it necessary for them to try to stress the need for this long-overdue supply. Country people are asking questions today which, perhaps, they did not ask many years ago. It is rather a pity that they did not ask them then. One of the most important questions they are asking is, "When are we going to have water in the countryside and some of the other amenities which have been enjoyed for so long by the town dwellers?" The answer, I suggest, is, "You will have them pretty quickly under a Socialist Government."

If ever there was a case for nationalisation it has been made out today. In all that has been said there is the clearest evidence for the case of the nationalisation of water and water supplies. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) said he agreed with one passage, at least, of Labour's policy and programme as set out in "Labour Believes in Britain." I am sorry he is not here now, because I should like to ask him if he would not agree with another passage relating to the fact that we are going to consider very seriously the question of the nationalisation of water.

We ought to be ashamed of the general situation. Conservative Governments in the past have spent large sums of money in parts of our Colonies for the provision of water supplies, but in their own country they have failed to recognise the necessity for water supplies in rural areas. A few years before the war legislation was passed—with which I entirely agree—which provided that dairy farmers should supply clean milk. It required the dairy farmers to have well kept cowsheds, and that they should keep their utensils scoured clean. As a result of that legislation, passed by a Conservative Government, many small dairy farmers lost their businesses, because that legislation failed to recognise that the first essential requirement in the supply of clean milk is a supply of pure water to the farms. It is not only because of the legislation that those farmers were forced out of business. It was because that Administration, which eliminated the dairy farmers, though they required them to do certain things, did not provide them with the first means of fulfilling their obligations—clean water.

What is the position in the countryside today? It so happens, unfortunately, that in my own constituency there are even schools without water. Since I became a Member of Parliament I have received something like 30 letters from farmers asking for water to be supplied to the farms. They were represented in this House for 23 years by a prominent Conservative. How can hon. Members opposite deny that there was neglect in the past. You were not interested in the countryside until recently. Why not be frank and say so?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Is it not a little hard, Mr. Bowles, to say that you have never been interested in the countryside?

The Deputy-Chairman

Hon. Members do frequently and quite unnecessarily refer to the Chair. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) said I was frustrated, which was quite untrue. I would respectfully advise hon. Gentlemen that to address the Chair is really very important indeed.

Mr. Tolley

I apologise for my slip, Mr. Bowles. I say that the Opposition have not had due regard to this all-important question.

Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)

Is the hon. Member aware that of the district I have the honour to represent two-thirds were covered, in the period to which he refers, with piped water supplies, and that the only reason why the third part was not covered was the advent of war, and that this was done during the period when he says there was no interest in the subject?

Mr. Tolley

I reply to the right hon. Gentleman that one swallow never made a summer. I have the honour to represent one of the largest rural constituencies, and I claim to know what I am talking about. I am talking seriously about this matter, because I am deeply concerned about it.

While I am in this House I shall endeavour to see that there is no delay by the Government in bringing about the conditions which I want to see, namely, a pure water supply to every house, farm and school in the country. Are we satisfied that all is being done that might be done? I do not think that all the progress has been made that ought to have been made. It is quite true that some local authorities, unfortunately, have not yet even faced up to the responsibility which is theirs. I know that it is an easy matter to try to place the blame for delay entirely on the Minister, but I feel that the Minister must take a hand in this, and that he must drive the local authorities in those areas much harder than they have been driven in the past. We have to be satisfied that where there is delay on the part of any authority or any individual that delay is removed as early as possible.

The number of schemes already carried into effect is comparatively small. Whatever the provisions which have been made from this side of the House, they have only been piecemeal, and I shall not be satisfied until we have a national water supply which will link up all the towns and villages. I am also concerned that village schemes for the supply of water are put into operation without any purification plant and with no one responsible for the standard of the water used and for the difficulties that may arise in the case of an epidemic. With a national water supply and the reservoirs attached to the mains it would be possible to provide a pure water supply for every town and village in the country.

May I say in conclusion that this has been an interesting Debate on a subject about which Members on both sides of the House, despite the neglect of the past, are really concerned; but there is one other item to which I would refer in connection with lack of initiative and energy in the past, and that is the failure to provide water conservation in the rivers. We are suffering today from something which should have been tackled many years ago. Britain has all the water during the 12 months which she could possibly need, and yet we find ourselves facing up to a position at the present moment which will probably have extremely serious results for the people of this country during the summer months. Many millions of pounds worth of damage has been caused in the past owing to our failure to evolve a scheme of water conservation which would prevent disastrous flooding, on the one hand, and give us the additional water required during the summer months, on the other. I think that this is a matter which the Government should go into in the immediate future, because it is one of the main problems connected with water supply, and one which should be tackled immediately.

9.30 p.m.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

I am very grateful to you, Mr, Bowles, for calling me, because this is the second Debate on rural water supplies which I have sat through. The last time I was not called, and this time I have been called only by the skin of my teeth. I have promised to sit down in five minutes. My constituents regard this matter as only less important than housing, and they will be sorry indeed that the Minister of Health is not here himself to deal with this matter. They would have been equally sorry if they had to listen to the very apologetic speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. It needed to be apologetic, because the progress that has been made has been exceedingly disappointing. I shall not enlarge on that.

There are several questions which I must ask the hon. Gentleman. The first has been touched on by many hon. Members but the real question is whether the greatly increased demand for water can be met from the normal water supplies of the country? I want to know—this may sound frivolous but it is serious—whether we really have the water supplies in this country to meet the increased water demand? The Minister of Agriculture last year spoke about the desirability of having water laid on to every field. That is important, but if that is done then an enormous amount of water will be wanted. Are inquiries going on, and have we got the water supplies we need?

I will only draw attention to one constituency matter. A large part of my constituency consists of some of the most fertile land in this country which has been reclaimed from the sea. That land has one peculiarity—it has got no water under it except possibly at a very great depth. It has to rely on pipe schemes, and I want to stress the special needs of my constituency and other constituencies like mine which have got land which has been reclaimed from the sea.

There are one or two things which can be done to help the general provision of water, and I want to make certain constructive proposals. First of all, the Minister could help if only he would let the local authorities know what grant they will get. No local authority in my constituency anyway knows what grant it is going to get. It may be said, "They ought to go ahead." The representatives on these councils are rightly careful in spending public money. Many schemes have been delayed owing to the fact that the matter has been referred back to the water committee by the council simply on this question of cost and ignorance of the amount of the grant. That is the sort of thing which delays matters and which could be avoided. I would ask the Minister to consider that point, and if he cannot let the councils know exactly what the grant will be he should at least let them know the minimum amount they may expect.

I should like to see better co-operation between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health in this matter of water. To the ordinary countryman it does not matter whether it is Ministry of Health or Ministry of Agriculture water; it is just water. I have known of cases in my constituency where the need is perhaps not sufficient in the opinion of the Ministry of Health nor sufficient in the opinion of the Ministry of Agriculture for a grant, but yet when the two reasons are combined they make a perfectly justifiable case. It has however taken months to get a case like that through. Will the two Ministries try to pull better together?

Thirdly, there should be quicker decisions, particularly in small cases, for agricultural water schemes. Some of these very small cases, which cost under £100, have to wait six weeks and longer perhaps for a decision before any start is made. It is perfectly obvious that very little material is to be used, but each of these issues has to go to the Minister to be decided. Could not the county agriculture executive committee give sanction in such cases so that the work could start? Afterwards it could be decided whether the scheme should rank for grant or not. Let the Government speed up the procedure, reduce the amount of work the Ministry have to do, and at the same time help us in the country.

Finally, we in the countryside are very disappointed about the smallness of the grant which is estimated for this year. It does not look as if we are going to get what we believe is our right in the coming year. I know that we have to be careful and cut down on capital expenditure. That has been made clear in the Economic Survey for 1949, where water supply is mentioned. In agriculture, the Government have taken power to keep labour on the land. Agriculture is a directed industry under the Control of Engagement Order. Men have to stay on the land. If the Government are to keep men in the countryside possibly against their will, then, I maintain that the Government have an added duty to give to those men that most important countryside amenity, water.

9.37 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)

I do not think that anyone can deny that we have had a short but most interesting Debate. It is a pity that we have not been able to have a full day upon the subject, to the regret of many hon. Members who were most desirous to speak, and who could have made very useful contributions. They have necessarily been cut out. I, too, am working under a very strict time-limit, for I have undertaken to give the Minister the time which we originally arranged, which was that we should divide the last half-hour between us. My own share has been slightly cut into already.

The Ministry had rather a poor story to tell today. We knew that it would be a poor story because on this occasion the Parliamentary Secretary is both batting and bowling. We know, when he has to carry the heat and burden of the day single-handed, that it is because the Minister feels that it is not the sort of occasion on which he can make one of his fiery and rumbustious speeches, and that it is better that he should leave the matter to be dealt with on a more piano note. The story of the Department was one of very limited output indeed. Hon. Members opposite have tried to defend it on the ground that enough was not done before. I should have thought that was an argument they might have been very chary of using.

Water engineering in this country is one of the great glories of the social services of the whole world. An unrivalled amount of water supply was put into force in years before the Labour Party was ever heard of—[An HON. MEMBER: "In urban areas."]—in the urban areas it is true, but the rural areas also were coming under review. [Interruption.] Yes, it is true. When we were building 380,000 houses a year there was a call on water supply which is not present now when the Government have allowed the number to be cut down to 200,000. The Labour Party ought to be very careful about casting animadversions upon the achievements of water engineering, or on any subject connected with the development of the countryside before the war. [Interruption.] Yes, and I know it well, having had to fight the thing through, every time I brought forward a constructive scheme for agriculture. I had to fight it through against the solid hostility of hon. Members opposite. There were constructive schemes for wheat, sugar and milk, and they met the solid hostility of hon. Members opposite. They were all voted against by Labour Members, every single one of them.

Mr. Willis

Surely there could not have been much of a fight during the 30's in view of the enormous Tory majority in the House of Commons?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

What they lacked in numbers they made up in vituperation. The hon. Member must not underestimate the offensive power—to use a technical term—of the small band of hon. Members who sat on these benches before the war. No, hon. Members late converted have come with the zeal of the convert on this matter and are anxious to show that they are now really interested in the countryside. They have had some difficulty in convincing the countryside of that, as the recent local government elections have proved conclusively, but they will have still more difficulty in the countryside if the figures recited tonight by the Minister are to be taken as reason for satisfaction on the part of the Government.

What is the Minister's figure? He twitted my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) with using estimates. Well, my hon. Friend was using the Minister's own figure. The Minister gave a figure of the amount actually spent. It was estimated, he said, that for 1949–50 the sum would be something of the order of £357,000. Am I right?

Mr. Blenkinsop indicated assent.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Well, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland gave some figures recently as to what that meant in the way of manpower. He said that a million pounds would be equal to the work of about 3,000 men. The Parliamentary Secretary is preening himself on the expenditure of something of the order of £350,000, that is to say, less than one-third, so that the great effort of the Labour Government towards the solution of this problem is the employment of 1,000 men upon it. Is that what hon. Members are pleased about? Is that what they are proud of? Is this the great banner of reform which they are hoisting in the countryside? The Parliamentary Secretary said there had been steady improvement in the labour supply. Well, I have asked him before, and I hope he will be able to tell us, what is the number of men which he computes are employed on these schemes today? Judging by his figure, it looks as if it were of the order of 1,000 men.

Will he answer the other very proper question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham: what is the figure of pipes going into rural domestic schemes and how does it compare with the admitted figure of 5,000 miles of pipes which have been exported in recent years? Hon. Members opposite ask, "Do you wish us to go without our imports?" Not at all, but surely some proportion might be observed, and when we are told that 5,000 miles of water pipe has been exported, we are entitled to ask what is the figure which is going into rural areas as part of that expenditure of £357,000 which the Parliamentary Secretary gave us tonight.

These are proper questions, questions which on this night the Minister ought to be able to answer. He is coming before the House of Commons for a vote of money. This is the moment at which the House of Commons asks, "What have you done with the money which you had before? What will you do with this money if we vote it tonight?" It is not enough to say that some great sum of £15 million or £20 million has been made available, or that thousands of pounds worth of schemes have been totalled up as authorisations. These grand totals of authorisations simply describe the length of the authorised queue.

We do not estimate the success of a shopkeeper by the number of customers who are unsatisfied, but by the number of customers who are satisfied, and it is not the total authorisations we wish to have, but the figures for work actually being put through, the number of men employed and the amount of material being built in. Those are the figures we ask from the Minister tonight. We also want to know how he expects the development to proceed in the immediate future. He says these graphs will rapidly rise. That may be, but we are entitled to ask for some forecast, some sketch, or projection of the curve, for he must admit that the curve falls lamentably short of the vast sums voted by this House and of some of the extravagant promises made by the Minister.

The contention was brought forward by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) that a clear case has been made out for nationalisation tonight, but I would say that of all things no case has been made out for more paper plans in regard to water. A clear case has been made out for action and more rapid progress, a greater sense of urgency, as hon. and right hon. Members on all sides of the Committee have demanded. Another set of paper plans and proposals to re-organise and another set of excuses due to the fact that a new Act has just been put on the Statute Book and that it is unfair to ask the Government to show results immediately—that is not what the Committee are asking for tonight. The Committee have not refused the Government anything they have asked in the great sums which have been brought forward as necessary to bring these rural schemes to life. The Committee are entitled to ask, as they have voted £20 million in Scotland and £15 million or £20 million in England, how rapid is the progress towards using money already voted? That is what we ask before we are willing to vote the sum which the Minister asks us to vote tonight.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I think it will be agreed that we have had a very useful and interesting Debate on the important and vital question of water supplies in the rural areas. We do not object in any way to the question being raised in the Committee tonight and we are in no way surprised that there has been pressure, from my hon. Friends particularly, to see that there is rapid progress made in all these very important schemes.

I do not think there has been any question on either side of the Committee that a very large amount of work has been prepared and that the actual amount of authorisation which is being carried out is far beyond what has been done in the past. The criticism has been rather that, so far as authorisation of works is concerned, progress in the completion of those works has not been as rapid as hon. Members opposite would have desired, in spite of the fact that very much larger sums of money are being made available today for this work than was the case in the past. Hon. Members opposite seem to be a good deal at variance with one another as to whether they would give priorities to water supplies or to other essential work which the Government are undertaking. It is obvious that in this general question of priorities, there must be a proper balance held between a great variety of essential but competing demands.

Our criticism of the past is that at a time when those other needs were urgent they were not allowed to become vocal and that, indeed, the urgent needs for electricity, the urgent needs for housing and many other services in the country were not given the opportunity of making their claim upon the resources of the country as they are today. It is quite impossible that we can pick out any one item of all these very important requirements of today and say that that particular issue must be given an overall priority. What we say is that it is certainly right and proper that full attention should be given to the needs of the countryside and water supplies for the countryside and it should be our duty to see that supplies of materials and labour are made available to carry out essential work keeping in mind all the time the other very real needs which are pressing upon us. We can fairly claim that we are now attempting to give much fuller consideration to agricultural needs than was the case before the war. Hon. Members opposite have suggested that we are not giving sufficient attention to wider agricultural needs, but it is just that determination to give consideration to the wider needs of the rural areas and to immediate housing that means that we must give consideration to larger schemes than was the case in the past.

Mr. R. A. Butler

Is attention being paid to horticulture?

Mr. Blenkinsop

In the past schemes for rural water supplies were all too often of a limited character and only provided water for particular areas of parishes, and never or rarely gave consideration to the wider agricultural needs which, as hon. Members have said, demanded much larger supplies of water, and which meant larger schemes requiring the co-operation of many different bodies. That, in turn, inevitably means delay in preparation. We do not deny that a great deal of time has been spent in preparing schemes in order to provide schemes which will be of real value to the countryside instead of concentrating upon large numbers of comparatively limited schemes which would not provide for the larger needs of the farming community as a whole.

I have been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) for some figures about the position in Wales. The schemes approved for grant in Wales represent a total of some £5 million out of which some 14 schemes have been completed and another 31 schemes are under construction. The cost of the 14 schemes was some £40,000 and the 31 schemes under construction represent a cost of a little over £1 million.

The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) complained of the length of time needed to get approval for schemes. He suggested that one of the difficulties was that of securing pipes. I repeat what I said earlier, that so far as ordinary lengths of piping are concerned there is no difficulty. The difficulty is to get the bends and sections. With that we have been actively dealing, and we are satisfied that we shall be able to get the supplies which we need.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I waited for three years for lengths of perfectly straight pipes. I do not think that that quite bears out the Parliamentary Secretary's story.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I do not think that is so today.

Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)

We cannot get them in Worcestershire. It is absolute nonsense.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield went on to refer to the Enborne scheme, and complained that it might provide water for London at the expense of the rural communities in Hampshire and Berkshire. That is a typical case in point. That scheme has not been approved for the very sound reason which the hon. and gallant Member himself advanced, that in a case like this we have carefully to weigh the needs and the position of the rural area that might be affected by a scheme of this magnitude. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman asks us to give full and fair consideration to the rival claims in a case of that kind, he must not be surprised if approval and authorisation of some of these schemes take some little time. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) asked whether we were giving sufficient attention, in our water schemes, to the question of agriculture as against rural housing. The answer is that we are giving that wider consideration which was so absent in past years.

Commander Maitland

Is any attention being paid to horticulture?

Mr. Blenkinsop

Certainly. The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield also suggested that domestic supplies should be metered. If right hon. and hon. Members opposite are complaining of lack of materials, what would be the effect of a nation-wide scheme of this sort? It seems that Members opposite have suddenly found an interest in rural water supplies which they have never evinced in the past. The benches opposite are rather more crowded now than they were throughout the Debate, but the fact is that there are few Members opposite who take a real interest in this matter. It is only because the party opposite have the hope of showing their flag to the rural electors again before long that they have dared to bring this issue before the Committee tonight. I hope there will be no question that the Committee will willingly await any Division which might be called, so that we can show the country that the Committee is fully behind the Government in their vigorous efforts to bring adequate supplies to the countryside.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The extent of the interest of the Government in rural water supplies may be shown by the fact that the responsible Minister has not bothered to put in an appearance during

the Debate and that the Parliamentary Secretary has not even bothered to answer either of the two simple questions I asked: how much labour is engaged on present schemes and how many pipes are being laid?

I beg to move, "That Item Class V, Vote I, Ministry of Health, be reduced by £5."

Question put

The Committee divided: Ayes, 99, Noes, 196.

Division No. 164.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok) Morrison, Rt. Hon W. S. (Cirencester)
Amory, D. Heathcoat Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.
Baldwin, A. E. George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey) Nield, B. (Chester)
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Glyn, Sir R. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Birch, Nigel Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Bossom, A. C. Grimston, R. V. Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Bowen, R. Harvey, Air-Comdre A. V. Pickthorn, K.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Haughton, Colonel S. G. (Antrim) Prescott, Stanley
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr J. G. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon Sir C. Raikes, H. V.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Rayner, Brig. R.
Butler, Rt. Hn R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Renton, D.
Byers, Frank Hope, Lord J. Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
Chatlen, C. Hudson, Rt. Hon R. S. (Southport) Ropner Col. L.
Channon, H. Hutchison, Lt-Cdr. Clark (Edin'gh, W.) Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Hutchison, Col J. R. (Glasgow C.) Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Jeffreys, General Sir G. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Corbett, Lieut.-Col U. (Ludlow) Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Keeling, E. H. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Lambert, Hon. G. Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Cuthbert, W. N. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Touche, G. C.
Davidson, Viscountess Law, Rt. Hon. R. K. Turton, R. H.
De la Bère, R. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Vane, W. M. F.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Low, A. R. W. Walker-Smith, D.
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Lucas, Major Sir J. Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)
Drewe, C. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond) McFarlane, C. S. White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Eccles, D. M. Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster) White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Elliot, Lieut-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Williams, C. (Torquay)
Foster, J. G. (Northwich) Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Fox, Sir G. Manningham-Buller, R. E. Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale) Marshall, D. (Bodmin)
Fyfe, Rt. Hon Sir D. P. M. Maude, J. C. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gage, C. Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen) Mr. Studholme and
Brigadier Mackeson.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Burke, W. A. Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)
Albu, A. H. Callaghan, James Fairhurst, F.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Champion, A. J. Farthing, W. J.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Cobb, F. A. Fernyhough, E.
Awbery, S. S. Cocks, F. S. Field, Capt. W. J.
Ayles, W. H. Collick, P. Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)
Balfour, A. Collins, V. J. Foot M. M.
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J. Colman, Miss G. M. Gaitskell, Rt. Hon H. T. N.
Barton C. Cooper, G. Gibson, C. W.
Battley, J. R. Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.) Glanville, J. E. (Consett)
Bechervaise, A. E. Corlett, Dr. J. Grenfell, D. R.
Berry, H. Cove, W. G. Grey, C. F.
Bing, G. H. C. Crossman, R. H. S. Grierson, E.
Blackburn, A. R. Daines, P. Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)
Blenkinsop, A. Davies, Edward (Burslem) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)
Blyton, W. R. Davies, Harold (Leek) Guest, Dr. L. Haden
Boardman, H. Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Gunter, R. J.
Bowden, Fig. Offr. H. W. Deer, G. Guy, W. H.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pt, Exch'ge) de Freitas, Geoffrey Haire, John E. (Wycombe)
Bramall, E. A. Delargy, H. J. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Dobbie, W. Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Driberg, T. E. N. Hannan, W. (Maryhill)
Brown, George (Belper) Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Hardy, E. A.
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly) Hastings, Dr. Somerville.
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)
Burden, T. W. Evans, John (Ogmore) Herbison, Miss M.
Hewitson, Capt. M. Moody, A. S. Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Hobson, C. R. Morley, R. Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)
Holman, P. Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.) Snow, J. W.
Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.) Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir Frank
Houghton, A. L. N. D. (Sowerby) Nally, W. Sparks, J. A.
Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Noel-Baker, Capt F. E. (Brentford) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby) Stross, Dr. B.
Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W) Oldfield, W. H. Swingler, S.
Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.) Oliver, G. H. Symonds, A. L.
Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool) Orbach, M. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N) Paget, R. T. Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth) Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Jeger, G. (Winchester) Pargiter, G. A. Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.) Parkin, B. T. Thomas, John R. (Dover)
Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool) Peart, T. F. Thurtle, Ernest
Jones, J. H. (Bolton) Popplewell, E. Tolley, L.
Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Porter, E. (Warrington) Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Keenan, W. Price, M. Philips Viant, S. P.
Kenyon, C. Proctor, W. T. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Kinley, J. Pryde, D. J. Watkins, T. E.
Lang, G. Pursey, Comdr. H. Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Lee, F. (Hulme) Ranger, J. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton) Rankin, J. Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.
Lindgren, G. S. Reeves, J. Wigg, George
Logan, D. G. Reid, T. (Swindon) Wilkins, W. A.
Longden, F. Rhodes, H. Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Lyne, A. W. Ridealgh, Mrs. M. Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
McAdam, W. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
McEntee, V. La T. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick) Willis, E.
McGhee, H. G. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Mack, J. D. Rogers, G. H. R. Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.
McKay, J. (Wallsend) Royle, C. Wise, Major F. J.
McLeavy, F. Shackleton, E. A. A. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Mainwaring, W. H. Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens) Woods, G. S.
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Shurmer, P. Yates, V. F.
Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Silverman, J. (Erdington) Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Medland, H. M. Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
Messer, F. Simmons, C. J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Middleton, Mrs L. Skeffington-Lodge, T. C. Mr. Pearson and
Mitchison, G. R. Skinnard, F. W. Mr. George Wallace.
Monslow, W. Smith, C. (Colchester)

Question put, and agreed to.

Original Question again proposed.

It being after Ten o'Clock and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.

Forward to