§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:in view of the increasing demands for waiter for industrial, domestic and other purposes, and the consequent need for the water industry to be fully equipped to meet these demands as efficiently and economically as possible, this House welcomes the action of the Government in encouraging the regrouping of water undertakings into larger and stronger units.I realise that I cannot hope to arouse interest in the Amendment among those people who, wallowing in ample supplies of water, proudly proclaim that they "never touch the stuff". I also realise that in the circumstances there may be many hon. Members from Scotland who would be interested today in stronger liquid than this debate will provide. If they are, I can only remind them that water forms a very large proportion of that liquid.
On the other hand, I have no doubt that those who have experienced water shortage will take a very different view. In fact, as is so often the case in life, we appreciate the vital need for water only when we have not got it. As a result, so long as water comes out of the tap and Nature continues to provide her ample, frequently more than ample, supply, few people worry. Yet all the time the national requirements for water, whether for industrial, agricultural or domestic use, continue to increase.
My purpose in raising this subject today is to consider whether the present organisation of the water industry is fitted to meet this increased demand. Therefore, before I refer to the structure of the water industry, I want to examine the 1228 nature of the increased load which is to be placed upon it.
First, there is the demand from potential new customers, as we cannot be satisfied until a waiter supply of some kind is universally available. This, of course, is a problem mainly for the rural areas. In 1939, one-third of the rural population of England and Wales was without a piped water supply. Today, thanks to the progress under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944, and the subsequent Acts increasing the contributions of the central Government, the figure has been reduced to 10 per cent.
If the figures are related to the whole population, one finds that 95 per cent, have a piped water supply, but even if this is, as my right hon. Friend the Minister claimed the other day, a record second to none in the world, it still gives little satisfaction to the remaining 5 per cent., some of whom, alas, live in my constituency.
Secondly, the water industry must be prepared to meet increased demands from its existing customers. A Report submitted to the Ministry of Health in 1949, on the causes of increase in the consumption of water, showed that in the ten years 1938–48 water consumption in Great Britain increased by 20 per cent. In some districts it was as much as 30 per cent. The increase has probably been even more marked since then. This is due mainly to the ever-growing demands of housing and agriculture, and, of course, the rehousing of people in premises with modern sanitary appliances.
Although the increase in the domestic demand is perhaps the more obvious, it is estimated that the industrial demand is increasing even more rapidly. In London, for example, metered supplies for industry are increasing each year by an average of approximately 2 million gallons per day. When one considers that atomic energy, electrical power and the oil industries are particularly heavy consumers of water, it is clear that industrial demand must continue to increase at a rapid rate.
In agriculture, dairy farms require more water as production of high quality milk becomes ever more general, and arable farmers are turning more and more to irrigation of their crops as a means of increasing yield.
1229 Lastly, the building of 300,000 new houses a year, each with at least one bathroom and lavatory, and the installation of these sanitary conveniences in existing houses, inevitably add greatly to the domestic demand. Average figures of domestic water consumption are, obviously, difficult to produce with any accuracy as they depend on many varying factors. However, I understand that a family of three or four in a modern council house uses approximately 100 gallons a day.
I will not attempt an arithmetical calculation on that basis to ascertain how much water is used per week in all the new houses erected since the war, but it is a formidable figure, although, of course, it cannot all be counted as increased consumption, because families will obviously have used some water in their old accommodation.
The provision of houses with modern sanitary conveniences confronts the water industry with a considerable challenge. Indeed, all the evidence from industry, agriculture and the domestic demand shows that the water industry must be prepared to meet an ever-growing demand for its product in the future. If it were to fail to do so, it would not only cause domestic inconvenience but hinder possible increases in industrial and agricultural production. Therefore, as a start I would say that, for these reasons, it is essential in the national interest to ensure that the organisation of the water industry is developed on the right lines now.
I now turn to the structure of the industry. At present, there are about 1,000 water undertakings in England and Wales, mostly run by local authorities, but including 90 water companies. Of these undertakings, 400 supply fewer than 10,000 people, and a further 250 supply fewer than 20,000 people. At the other end of the scale, approximately 120 companies supply three-quarters of the total population.
These figures in themselves would seem to indicate the need for some amalgamation. Indeed, this objective was recognised in the Coalition Government's White Paper of 1944 and the Water Act, 1945, which set up the machinery to carry out such regrouping by order.
Before I come to any sweeping conclusions, I think it is important to 1230 recognise certain facts about the present water undertakings. They were built up by local initiative to meet local requirements for water. They have fulfilled this rôle with conspicuous success, and many of them are run on highly efficient lines today. There is evidence of this in the fact that shortages of water are comparatively rare in the country as a whole except in periods of prolonged drought. Furthermore, water is a cheap commodity as the charges for it are based on ability to pay rather than actual consumption. Many families, in fact, pay the equivalent of a pint of beer for their week's water supply.
I believe that these are reasons for the water undertakings to be justifiably proud of their achievements, and they are, naturally, loath to surrender their independence. But when we are faced with the urgent need for development, we surely have to ask ourselves whether many of these existing undertakings have, in fact, sufficient resources.
Can they, for example, hope to finance and supervise major capital works? In this connection, I wonder whether the capital investment of the water industry, now, as I understand, running at about £20 million a year, is really high enough when compared with investment in many other of the basic industries. Next, can they employ expert, full-time staff? This will become increasingly necessary as their undertaking expands. We must also decide whether the national resources of finance and water are sufficient to permit local duplication of pipes and local competition for sources of water.
Any such consideration surely leads to one inevitable conclusion; some regrouping and amalgamation is essential if the future is to be faced with confidence. If we accept that, we must decide what size future undertakings should be and how regrouping should be effected. I believe that the answers to both of these questions must to a large extent depend on local circumstances and local conditions. Obviously, there can be no hard-and-fast rule about size, but it seems very generally accepted that the existing number of 1,000 undertakings in England and Wales might well be cut down to approximately 200 or 300—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not one?"] I will say later, if I may, why I believe that the figure should certainly not be one.
1231 As I made earlier what could be considered a slighting reference to Scotland, and as I have also omitted mention of that country from my speech, which might be considered surprising to those who know my antecedents, I would add that I understand that Scotland's water position is extremely satisfactory from every point of view. The Scots have plenty of water, their regrouping is proceeding as fast it should, and everyone, apparently, is very happy about it. Whether or not, as I hear one of my hon. Friends say, it is because they never touch it, I do not know.
Turning to the arrangements for regrouping, I hope that my right hon. Friend will do everything possible to encourage voluntary agreements among neighbouring undertakings. I cannot believe that compulsion will produce satisfactory results. Local ill-feeling is stirred up and this makes co-operation in the future extremely difficult. A joint board set up under a compulsory order starts under many disadvantages. I therefore want to suggest how my right hon. Friend might encourage regrouping by agreement.
First, some undertakings seem to associate amalgamation with the promotion of a new and elaborate scheme. As a result, regrouping is often represented locally as most expensive for the ratepayers. I believe that my right hon. Friend could dispel this fear if he encouraged the new joint boards to combine their existing schemes under one management. This method would surely lead to increased efficiency without any additional expense.
Secondly, if a new scheme is absolutely essential, could not my right hon. Friend take powers to give special regrouping grants when the additional costs are heavy? Progress has been made with rural water supplies because there are grants for schemes. It would seem that grants for regrouping would act as a powerful incentive to undertakings to reach agreement.
Thirdly, when undertakings want to regroup it is surely worth while for the Minister to approve their scheme on that ground alone, even if the costs are heavy or other circumstances are not entirely to his liking. Once a scheme is turned down, or fails to proceed for some 1232 reason or other, the opportunity for regrouping may well be lost. I want to submit some local evidence to support this view from experience in my constituency in Cumberland.
Under instructions from the Cumber land County Council, a Report was published in 1945 under the title of "Survey of Water Resources of Cumberland." As a result, the County Council and some other local authorities agreed to form a joint board —
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Yes, and that is all the more reason why we should have a first-class water supply in all parts of the county, which is not the case at present.
A Bill was promoted, its passage was not opposed by the Ministry, and the North Cumberland Water Board Act received Royal Assent in 1947. But the scheme, which would have solved Cumberland's water problem, foundered on the rocks of restrictions on capital expediture, and never started. I do not, in any sense, wish to make a party point of that because, as we all know capital restrictions have been very common with Governments of all parties. I am merely citing the example of what happened in this case.
Further negotiations about this board also came to naught. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Board of Trade declined to give grants to the constituent authorities, who were entitled to them. It was always considered that the scheme proposed by the new joint board was too expensive in initial capital expenditure. As a result, the smaller individual undertakings have had to proceed with their own small schemes to meet the demand for water. The cost of these, of course, is considerable. Already, it is mounting towards the estimated cost of the major Caldewhead scheme, and the water supply, despite our rainfall, is still unsatisfactory in many districts.
No doubt many good reasons can be advanced for the attitude taken by Governments in all stages of these negotiations, but one fact none of us can dispute. A great opportunity for regrouping was lost then. It may well be more difficult to achieve the amalgamation now as, needless to say, the local feeling in 1233 Cumberland towards the Minister's new circular is inevitably somewhat cynical. They say, with some reason, that it would appear from this that they were about fourteen years ahead of Government policy. Therefore, if this experience emphasises the danger of turning down schemes for regrouping, it also proves, I believe, the need for my right hon. Friend to give careful consideration to local circumstances as well as to local conditions.
I support the policy of regrouping existing water undertakings into larger and stronger units because I believe that is an essential and logical development if the increasing national requirements for water are to be met. But I do not want the water industry to lose its essential local character. I am convinced that my right hon. Friend will best pursue his policy if his encouragement is based on the carrot rather than on the stick. In fact, I hope that my right hon. Friend will achieve results not by hasty and sweeping compulsory orders, but by a gradual and steady process of voluntary local agreement amongst neighbours.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)
I beg to second the Amendment.
For many years I have taken an interest in water, not only for washing but for drinking at odd times as well. I have had experience of the industrial use of water as well as the use to which it is put in an area such as I represent, a rural area which is mainly agricultural.
From my industrial knowledge, I know that where water is used in a power plant, for instance, in a boiler, the industrial organisation can put into operation an automatic softening plant to make certain that the boiler tubes, condenser tubes, and so on, do not need to be renewed if at all times the person operating that plant has a reliable base upon which to work, such as a standard alkali content and a percentage of hardness. The average person who takes water for granted would do well to consider that it is essential for industrial users to have a supply of water in conditions in which they can rely upon a base standard such as is available in connection with other services—for example, electricity.
I want to pay a tribute to the great amount of work which has been done by 1234 the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in this matter. I have studied very closely one of the water surveys which have been issued, and that is the survey dealing with Devon. I must admit that I have not read the other 30 surveys, but when one considers the detail embodied in these surveys one appreciates the great amount of work which has been done by the Department, and I think we should pay tribute where it is due.
The Devon survey was published in October, 1954. Since then, although there have been conferences of local authorities who had the opportunity of studying this survey, not much agreement has been reached so far. One is conscious of a persistent tendency on the part of authorities—this is probably natural, but it is one of our greatest problems—to wish to maintain their own undertakings. One can understand that attitude when one considers the achievements of many local authority undertakings which, over the years, have ensured adequate supplies of water and have piped it to as many of their ratepayers as possible. Many of the local authorities in my constituency as well as in other parts of Devon are very proud of the work which they have done in the course of many years in ensuring an adequate supply of water for their ratepayers at as reasonable a price as possible.
There is also the problem which affects many urban authorities who resist being brought into an area which includes a purely rural area where a great deal of capital work still has to be done. It is natural for an urban undertaking to feel that as it has put into operation a system which suits all the citizens in the area, it should not be amalgamated with an undertaking which has very few of the heavy mains required to supply the people who have never had water before.
I would point out that in the latest Circular 52/56 this point is covered to a certain extent. Paragraph 11 states:A particular problem arises where some of the undertakers proposing to combine have an adequate and inexpensive waiter supply, while others have a much more costly supply or still have much work to carry out before their system is satisfactory. In such cases, it may be advisable in fairness to the consumers in the ' cheap-water areas' that provision should be made, in the order or Act, giving them lower waiter charges than in the 'dear-water areas' for a stated period of years. The Minister will accordingly be prepared to authorise diffential rates of this sort in appropriate cases.1235 In fact, that system is in operation in certain areas where amalgamations have taken place. The people in the cheap water area pay a lower rate for an agreed number of years, and when there is an amalgamation they pay no more than their proper share towards the undertaking. In passing, I understand that Honiton is one of those areas which became part of an amalgamation and that at present it enjoys the advantages that I mentioned earlier.
In considering this matter, local councillors on these local authority undertakings should consider the historical basis of the charge for domestic water. It has always been based not upon the amount of water consumed, but upon the consumer's ability to pay. It has always been the arrangement that a domestic consumer's supply is not metered and, therefore, no account is taken of the amount which he consumes. Of course, where a domestic consumer installs an additional bathroom his rateable value will increase and, therefore, he will, in an indirect way, pay a higher rate for his water than he otherwise would. But in the main, I consider that the payment for his domestic water supply is based upon the rateable value of his domestic premises.
When we consider that farm supplies are generally metered and a farmer will normally pay for the quantity consumed, it is clear that the interests of the ratepayers in both urban and rural areas are adequately covered. In thesecircumstances, I think it is ludicrous that some of our rural communities should still have to rely upon wells and ditches, with the problem of contamination which is always present in an uncontrolled supply. Many of these areas can be brought in if the local authorities are prepared to tackle this problem and sink some of their differences.
It is also interesting to note that enterprises such as attested dairy herds are now, in the main, in the interests of the consumer of the product, and therefore, the urban dweller who is the consumer should certainly accept his responsibility in making certain that we take the necessary action to eradicate disease and ensure that the quality of the product is the highest that can be obtained.
I think that the whole nation welcomes the great strides that have been made in 1236 the treatment and eradication of pulmonary tuberculosis, but I do not believe that anyone will be satisfied about this problem until bovine tuberculosis is completely eradicated. Unless we eradicate bovine tuberculosis, which is always a problem which can aggravate the efforts of scientists, medical men and so on, we are not really tackling the problem properly.
Therefore, the urban dweller who is the consumer of the product should certainly not sit back in cases where, by his coming into a scheme, the result will be to make certain that the standard of the product which he eventually consumes will be far better and safer than it was before.
§ Mr. J. Harrison
I apologise for disturbing the sequence of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I wonder whether he would apply his mind to a particular aspect of the argument which he has been deploying—that of the supply of electricity to rural areas. I should have thought that the experience of the supply of electricity to farmers and isolated country units would have been an outstanding lesson in regard to the supply of an efficient water supply to rural areas, because we found that at times it was almost impossible to persuade the small undertakings to accept the responsibility of supplying the very sparsely populated parts of the country.
§ Mr. Mawby
I cannot quite follow the argument of the hon. Member. I think perhaps the hon. Gentleman is trying to justify the nationalisation of electricity. If that is so, I would suggest that he is now trying to advocate the nationalisation of water on the same basis, That may be a point with which I shall have to deal in a few moments; in fact, I certainly will deal with it.
Electricity is now nationalised and at present at least the occupants of a whole area are all paying their share towards making certain that electricity is available to all parts of the countryside. Therefore, I would not argue with the hon. Gentleman on that particular point, and also for the reason that, as a new Member of this House, I feel that I should probably be out of order if I continued that line of argument about electricity. However, I will deal with the question of the nationalisation of water later.
1237 There is another thing which I have noticed in my study of the Devon water survey, which, I should imagine, affects many other parts of the country. It is that a number of water undertakings, particularly small ones, are very vulnerable indeed to drought conditions, because most of their supplies are taken from the intake of a fast-flowing river, where no impounding reservoir is used, so that no stock at all is kept to help to tide them over drought conditions.
In addition, and in Devon particularly, we have during times of drought a heavy influx of visitors, who do not always congregate in the urban areas, such as Torquay and Paignton. In fact, they visit and stay in many parts of my own constituency, but I would naturally be guilty of advertising if I started telling of the many beauty spots in Devon which they visit.
There is, therefore, a necessity for these authorities to make certain that their water supplies are not reduced to a mere dribble just at the time when the maximum number of consumers require to use them. There are also many people, I think probably the great majority, who do not realise the great potential danger of improperly controlled water supplies, and I feel that in every water undertaking there should be a fully qualified water engineer, whose sole duty it is to look alter and control the quality of the supply, the standard of the mains and, what is probably now more important than ever, to control any leakage where the supply, at any time, may be disturbed, which would allow back-siphonage of contaminated water into the mains.
For all these reasons, a fully qualified engineer should be charged with the sole duty of looking after these particular problems for the undertaking. Of course, if this is to be done, the size of the undertaking must be such as to justify the employment of such an expert. Naturally, we cannot here lay down exactly what size the undertaking should be. Here, as in many other spheres, we must make certain that an incentive is given to the right type of young man to take the necessary training which will qualify him for this particular task.
Ever since the Water Act, 1945, was passed there has been some uncertainty about the future in the minds of the present water engineers. There is always the uncertainty that they do not know 1238 which undertakings will be co-ordinated, and which of these engineers would then become second to the head man, and so on. In the interests of providing an incentive to new entrants, and also of making certain that we keep the first-class men we now have in the industry, we should do everything possible at the earliest possible date to reduce and finally remove any uncertainty.
Let me here deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. J. Harrison), in his intervention. I want to make it clear that I am not calling for a scheme whereby many authorities with excellent records are absorbed into what they regard as —and they have said it to me many times —a soulless machine. Let me quote from the Water Companies Association a statement which I think would more or less sum up my own views, which reads as follows:Unlike electricity and gas, water does not lend itself to large-scale methods of production.I think everyone will agree with that.A source of water supply varies, both in quantity and quality, with such widely differing factors as geology, topography and the incidence of rainfall. The greatest single factor in the cost of water is the cost of distribution, and particularly that of laying mains. Therefore, the industry always endeavours in the first instance to obtain its water from a local source. For this reason, water is essentially a local service that can best be administered locally. The idea of a national water grid first came into prominence after the drought of 1934. It was then suggested that water shortages could be avoided by establishing the water equivalent of an electricity grid system. The suggestion was closely examined by a committee of distinguished technical experts and unanimously rejected as technically and economically impracticable.That, I feel, adequately sums up my attitude towards any ideas of nationalisation, water grid, or whatever may be suggested. I feel that it is a local matter, but that the undertaking should be of a size which can afford to have its impounding reservoir or reservoirs and can have a fully qualified engineer who will make certain that the water is of the right quality, who will make certain that the mains are adequately looked after and checked and who will check leakages. I feel that when that happens we shall have the ideal water supply undertaking.
I therefore sincerely hope that many more voluntary amalgamations will take place, and that if these take place we 1239 shall see men with past experience, instead of resting on their laurels, as some appear, unfortunately, to be doing at the moment, joining together to form joint undertakings capable of fulfilling all our present-day needs.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) has rendered the House a considerable service by raising the question of our national water supplies. I thought that he approached it in a most constructive way, and although he has not gone as far as I should have wished, nevertheless he has enabled us this afternoon to discuss what is an important national issue.
As the hon. Member rightly said, the demand for water, both for domestic use and for industrial expansion, is growing every day. He mentioned the large number of new houses and flats which have been erected in this country since the end of the war and said that they contain piped water, sanitation, bathrooms, and hot water systems. I understand that in those houses water consumption may be about 40 gallons per person per day, and, in some cases, even more. I thought he was right, however, to remind us that there are in this country about 800,000 houses, 5 per cent, of the total, which have no piped water supply at all. Of course, most of those houses are in our rural areas, although there are many in the larger towns which have no water supply or which share an outside tap.
Well over 50 per cent, of the total quantity of water consumed in this country is used for industrial purposes, and the bulk is used by a very few industries —steel and petroleum refining, steam-electric power generation, paper manufacturing, and the chemical industry. I understand that to make one ton of steel or sulphate paper, over 60,000 gallons of water are required. It is obvious that expansion in these industries and the tremendous development in atomic energy mean that there will be a further huge demand for water in the coming years.
I believe that it has been estimated that in the United States the demand for water will increase by about 90 per cent. During the next twenty-five years. This country may not need as much as that, but we 1240 shall need very much more water if we are to carry through our policy of industrial development.
Both the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, who moved the Amendment, and the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) who seconded it, have referred to the rural areas. What they have said is, of course, true. Many farmers have achieved a very high degree of mechanisation, but are still compelled to drag water to the cattle in an old cask on a cart. Many farmers are unable to get their dairy herds attested because their water supply is not pure enough to satisfy the Ministry's inspectors.
In the light of this growing need for water for industry, for agriculture and for domestic use, what is our position nationally? I would say that our present system, in regard to both the conservation and the distribution of the nation's water supplies, is grossly inadequate. The hon. Member referred to the structure of the water industry: 920 water undertakings are in the hands of local authorities, 129 are in the hands of private companies and one is in the hands of a new town corporation, making a total of 1,050 undertakings.
Now that the proper planning of our water resources has become essential in the national interest, it is manifestly absurd that in this small island over 1,000 agencies should be responsible for our water supplies. Out of the 1,050 agencies which I have mentioned, 351 are undertakings which cover areas of 5 square miles and under. Clearly, the time is well overdue when the Government should take the whole question in hand as one of great urgency.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government has recognised the existence of the problem, because I understand that a little while ago he circularised local authorities on the question of greater amalgamation. The Minister himself has considerable power under the Water Act, 1945. I think he might well go far towards a solution of our problem if he exercised his power under Section 9 of the Act fully.
Even so, I argue that the existing law is quite inadequate. For example, it enables local authorities to promote Private Bills in Parliament allowing them to tap valuable water resources, regardless of the 1241 overall national need and of the interests of the areas from which they take the water. In days like these, when water is so precious a commodity, I believe that national planning is absolutely essential and that the Private Bill procedure is archaic and may even militate against the national interest.
What, therefore, is the answer to the problem? This is where I would join issue with the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border. Although he clearly understood the nature of the problem and posed it, I thought, very well, he did not try to present an effective solution. He suggested that our problem might be solved by regrouping agreements. Surely this has been possible for a long time past, and the results so far are not very encouraging. We shall have to wait a very long time for adequate results if we are to wait until all these undertakings agree to amalgamate.
It is not necessary to enter into any arguments about the merits or demerits of public ownership, because 87.6 per cent, of all the undertakings in existence are already publicly owned. What is needed is a coherent national plan, efficiently administered. There are many areas, we must remember, which will never have a piped water supply unless there is some broad national planning. To give two short examples from the rural area of Wales, how can the Tregaron rural district with a Id. rate which produces £34, and the Machynlleth rural district, with a product of a Id. rate of £26, launch a water scheme?
§ Mr. Hughes
They are using wells. People are still carrying water in buckets in the villages and farms.
Even with a Government grant, these district councils would still have a crippling burden to carry on top of the general rates. The House must face the absurdity of this situation. At the same time, wealthy authorities, because of the means at their disposal, are able to go into these areas and take water from them for their own purposes without in any way of benefiting the districts themselves.
I suggest that in considering a better administrative set-up we must separate the functions, and I was rather surprised 1242 that neither the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, nor the hon. Member for Totnes discussed this point. We must separate, first, the functions of conservation, general supervision and planning, on the one hand, from distribution and purification, on the other. I suggest that the ownership general planning, conservation, and the supervision of our water resources should be in the hands of a national body, or, perhaps better still, in the hands of the Minister of Housing and Local Government himself. After all, he is now the Minister for water supply.
At present, these resources do not appear to be vested in anyone and can be acquired by Private Act of Parliament. On the other hand, the distribution and purification of water supplies should be the duty of regional undertakings, and perhaps in Wales and Scotland of national undertakings. Those private undertakings which remain would, of course, be taken over. I do not say that I favour wholly nominated bodies or corporations to do this work. I should like them to be largely on a local authority basis, elected by the county councils, and district councils, with a limited number of members nominated by the Minister.
In this context, it would be as well if the House considered the pattern of the river boards, because there we have an organisation which works well. I do not wish to be dogmatic in these matters, but I think that the set-up which I have suggested is a good one, because there will be Parliamentary accountability and, at the same time, a democratic base. One thing is perfectly clear, that the present set-up of 1,050 undertakings must be drastically curtailed in the national interest.
About 3½ million people in this country are without piped water. The national need for water is growing alarmingly day by day and, obviously, a bold and imaginative approach is required urgently. I hope that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will grapple with this problem forthwith.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) has just told us that the methods for conserving water in his area are 1243 grossly inadequate. He comes from a rather damp part of Wales and he will appreciate that the conditions on the eastern side of the Kingdom, where I come from, are far worse. In fact, the state of the Eastern Counties, in particular, Lincolnshire, was mentioned in the 1944 White Paper, "A National Water Policy." The White Paper stressed the importance of devising some way of building up a public interest to prevent the misuse and waste of underground sources of supply in the Bunter sandstone, which is an area of the Sherwood Forest, and in the Lincolnshire limestone areas.
Hon. Members will realise that the North Lincolnshire Water Board is the first example of a compulsory amalgamation in the regrouping of the water undertakings. I am certain that hon. Members will be very sympathetic towards the feelings of my constituents and to the feelings of the members of some of the rural district councils who are involved in this North Lincolnshire water undertaking. These people, particularly the members of the rural district councils, feel that they have tackled the problem of water supply in rural areas with energy and foresight, and they see no reason why the responsibility should be taken from them.
Furthermore, they feel that the directly elected representatives of the district are the people who are best suited to decide how the water resources of the district should be divided. They also feel—and we all know—that the services they have given have been truly local and in many cases personal. I hope that when my hon. Friend winds up the debate he will give us an assurance that in the amalgamations of water undertakings there will be a fair representation of all the smaller water companies and the smaller rural districts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) suggested that there was a need to hold out a carrot in this matter of speeding up the process of amalgamation. I can assure my hon. Friend that if he can give some guarantee about the representation on these water boards he will be holding out a tremendous carrot to help to get on with the regrouping of these undertakings, and there will be less need for him to use the big stick.
1244 Hon. Members who have studied the White Paper will also be familiar with the fact that it discusses pollution and says:… there is need for some further tightening up of provisions against pollution.Throughout the countryside we are involved in colossal expenditure to try to take water to all our rural areas and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) said, it is an enormous expenditure. Large distances have to be covered for very low consumption.
All that is brought about because the surface water in this country today is not fit for even animals to drink. It is all very well urging local authorities and the other people concerned to push on with amalgamation of their water services by co-operation, but many people in my part of the country feel disappointed with the feeble efforts the Government have made to obtain any sort of co-operation on a national drainage policy—because the problem of underground water supplies cannot be separated from the problem of drainage and surface water.
It is ridiculous that some of the most famous brooks in the countryside should now be cut off by two strands of barbed wire, with cattle forced to drink a piped water supply from a tin trough in a corner of a field. It must be admitted that pollution is largely caused by inadequate arrangements for local sewage disposal. That applies especially to flat countryside, such as I represent in Lincolnshire. The water flows slowly and the pollution from the drains and dykes, particularly in summer time, makes some villages almost uninhabitable. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind when they are reviewing the Saxilby village sewerage scheme which is now before them.
I want to refer to irrigation, which has already been mentioned in connection with water undertakings. The possibilities of the potential expansion of irrigation, particularly for agriculture, have not been examined in this country to date. An excellent paper was produced by Sir Peter Greenwell not very long ago which indicated the increase in agricultural production that we could have if only we could solve the problem of sufficient water for irrigation. It is in the Eastern Counties, where water is scarcest, that irrigation could have the greatest part to play.
1245 I suggest to my hon. Friend that the alternative to adding to the water companies the burden of irrigation as well as the burden of the increasing consumption by industry which we expect in the next few years is to try to keep the surface water throughout the countryside pure. Rivers like the Trent, the Witham and the Nene ought to be sufficiently pure to serve the needs of the farms. We have now a policy for clean air. I suggest that what we need as well is a policy for clean and pure water. It would be valuable to our agricultural production, it would be very valuable to our industry, and it would be welcomed not least by the many frustrated local anglers, who find their sport killed by pollution throughout the countryside.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House are probably familiar with the words of Rupert Brooke:Sweet waters dimpling laugh from tap or spring.Perhaps those words conjure up a somewhat irresponsible attitude, which is the outlook of so many towards our water supplies in the countryside today, and we have to try to build up a much more responsible attitude among the users of water. The White Paper which was published in 1944, on which the proposals in this Amendment are based, suggested that we should try to build up a public conscience about waste and the Government are urging local authorities and water companies to push on with the amalgamation and regrouping because of the demand we expect in the future, but on many of the modern housing estates the layout of the plumbing is far too prone to frost damage and consequent bursts and the most tremedous waste of water. Moreover, there are places which all of us know where the use of water in industry is somewhat extravagant.
My hon. Friend, speaking in Yorkshire the other day, said that 95 per cent, of the people of the country have piped water supplies today. I am quite certain that hon. Members on both sides of the House hope that in the very near future that figure will be 100 per cent., but we must see that all users of water realise what a precious asset our adequate supplies really are and take care of them.
It would be very wrong if, in this debate, we sounded too alarmist about water supplies, because by regrouping of 1246 the undertakings we shall ensure adequate supplies in all areas for all purposes, agricultural and industrial, but supplies could be even more plentiful if this drive for regrouping were connected with a real and serious drive against pollution and waste.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
The House will be aware that when we are discussing this vital question of water supplies the Tryweryn Valley scheme will be uppermost in my mind. However, I know that if I dealt with that today I should be out of order, but I am hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye when the Liverpool Corporation Bill is discussed in the House in the very near future. Anyway, I think it is proper, when we are discussing water, that a Welsh Baptist should take part in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) has dealt with the broader issues, as did the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. White-law), who moved the Amendment, and the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), who seconded it. 1 was very interested to hear the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border say that in Scotland there is plenty of water and that the people there are happy. I can tell him why. In Scotland, they are able to keep their water for their own use. That is not true of Wales.
I could take the hon. Member to Montgomeryshire and there show him a delightful reservoir, and I am sure that, viewing that lovely stretch of water, he would say, "How fortunate the people of Montgomeryshire are to own this water." I should have to tell him, "My dear fellow, this belongs to Liverpool, and not 26 per cent, of the people of Montgomeryshire have a piped water service." We could cross into Radnorshire, where there is a reservoir of which I should have to tell him, "This belongs to Birmingham."
I want to warn the House very seriously that in Wales, and particularly in North Wales, we cannot afford to allow another drop of water to go across the border. If we do we shall be dry. We shall not have the water which we shall need in North Wales for our own purposes. That is the answer to the hon. Member. Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves have been frequent visitors to Wales to get water.
1247 I want to deal with this question as it affects rural Wales generally, a country rich in water resources but, paradoxically, very poor in water supplies. Indeed, it is ironical that in those very areas where there are the large reservoirs to which I have referred, belonging to Liverpool and Birmingham, there is the lowest percentage of properties supplied with piped water. For example, as I said just now, only 26 per cent, in Montgomeryshire have it, and in Radnorshire only 64 per cent.
In Mid-Wales in particular the lack of water supplies has greatly retarded housing progress. We cannot expect people to live in houses which have not a water supply. I should be quite prepared to live in a village which has no public house or even a milk bar. I should not be concerned about them. However, I personally should not be prepared to live in a village devoid of a water service. We find it very difficult to establish housing estates because of this lack of piped water supplies. In the improvement of living conditions the presence of piped water supplies of adequate quantity and good quality is an essential factor. Lack of water supplies may hamper food production on the farms. An increased supply of water is required because of the increased production of crops and the larger number of livestock. The Government are asking for increased production on our farms. One way of securing it is to provide the farmers with a sufficient supply of water.
Afforestation is on the increase in Wales. I am glad of it, but we are hoping that in the very near future we shall have ancillary industries to our afforestation. It is a prerequisite of establishing the ancillary industries that there should be a sufficient supply of water. There are rumours, I hope not without foundation, that atomic power stations are to be set up in rural parts of Wales. I very much hope that this is so, but before they can be established we must be guaranteed a plentiful supply of water.
It is very interesting to make a comparison between the position prevailing in Wales and the position in Cumberland, Northumberland and Westmorland. The percentage of piped water supplies in the rural district of Wales as a whole 1248 is 72 per cent., but included in that percentage are the three densely populated counties of Denbigh, Flint and Glamorganshire. If those three counties are omitted the percentage falls to about 56 per cent. In Cumberland, the percentage is 82 per cent.; in Northumberland, 83 per cent.; and in Westmorland, 86 per cent. It is no wonder that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and the hon. Member for Totnes are very happy about the situation. I should be happy, too, if the position in Cumberland also prevailed in Wales.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I hope that the hon. Member will not misrepresent what I said. I never suggested that I was happy about the position. I pointed out how desirable it was to have piped water supplies universally available and that we could not possibly be satisfied until that was the case. I do not think that that can be described as being happy about the situation.
§ Mr. Jones
Perhaps I misunderstood the hon. Member. At any rate, he looked happy. I have never seen an hon. Member presenting his case with a happier look than the hon. Member. It was a pleasure to listen to him.
The Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, realising the parlous position in Wales, recommended in its second Memorandum, published in 1953, the setting up of a special agency to bring amenities, including piped water and sanitation, into rural Wales. This has been turned down by the Government. I am not surprised, they being a Tory Government and this particular Government of all Governments. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border said that Cumberland was fourteen years in advance of the Government. That is easy. One could be at least a hundred years in advance of this Government.
The recommendation made by the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire was turned down flat. The more I think of that the more I realise that it was a great mistake, because instead of getting better the situation in Wales has been getting worse. I am glad to see the Minister for Welsh Affairs present. He is also the Minister for water, though I am sure not for milk and water. If the right hon. Gentleman takes some constructive action, as he has been exhorted 1249 to do this afternoon, he will go some way towards meeting the very real need of the countryside in Wales.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Mathew (Honiton)
I hope that the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) will not expect me to follow him in his remarks. I think that the House must have been astonished, but instructed, to learn that AH Baba did not come from Arabia but from the English side of the Welsh border. The whole House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) for having proposed the Amendment and for the extremely clear way in which he set out the water supply problem that is facing the country.
I should like to support what my hon. Friend said and, in particular, to agree entirely with what I understood to be his two main conclusions—first, that some regrouping is inevitable, and for that my hon. Friend sets the background and gave the figures, and, secondly, that compulsion is undesirable, except where it is absolutely necessary.
I should like to sound a note of caution. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border appealed to the Minister not to use the big stick. Already, murmurs are running through the West Country and the shadow of that big stick, at any rate, is going before them. I hope that my right hon. Friend realises that there is considerable disquiet in the West Country about his intentions.
I therefore support the plea made by several of my hon. Friends that the Minister should use his compulsory powers with the utmost reluctance and, moreover, that even the threat of the use of this ultimate weapon, if I may so call it, should not be made, except in extreme cases, as a method of persuasion in guiding the local water undertakings towards amalgamation.
The majority of water undertakings are elected local authorities and I am sure that they will support the underlying aims set out in paragraph 2 of the Ministry's Circular No. 52/56, which states that:The underlying aims must be to promote the most effective use of the water resources of the country and to provide a reliable service supplying at an economic cost the quantity and quality of waiter that consumers need.As I understand them, those words mean, first, efficiency now at the lowest possible 1250 cost to the consumers and, secondly, as far as can be foreseen, that an undertaking will be able to meet future expansion of the needs in its area both as to quality and quantity.
Before compulsory action is even contemplated I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure in every case that possible future needs are estimated and proved beyond all reasonable doubt before even any suggestion of action is made. I have heard it suggested more than once that in the future something unexpected might develop here or there in certain areas and the present water undertakings would not be able to meet that unexpected need, even admitting that at present they provide an efficient service and have run an efficient organisation for a number of years.
I should like to mention four detailed points. First, I should like to know, what in the Minister's opinion, is today a "small undertaking." Is the test to be output? I understand that in the case of the Kent reorganisation the rough criterion was an output of 1 million gallons a day. It is suggested in certain quarters today that this is too small. The reasons normally given are that even an undertaking producing as much as 1 million gallons a day is incapable of supporting a whole-time engineer, a whole-time analyst, a whole-time accountant, and so forth.
It is realised by all who know anything about this matter that there are many efficient undertakings which have been operating for years and have worked well with the use of consultants and engineers who have other duties, especially in local authorities. It is not sensible to suggest that a treasurer who collects rates as well as water charges collects the latter any less efficiently.
It should be remembered that the expensive alternative to the part-time specialist is a full-time man who may be under-employed in the new grouping. There always is this risk. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend now, as regards the definition of the small undertaking which is so often referred to, whether he has in mind a minimum of 1 million gallons, or is it 2 million or, as is often suggested today, 5 million gallons output a day?
My second point is about bulk supplies. The Ministry Circular 52/56 in 1251 paragraph 7, states clearly that the Minister is against agreements for the giving of bulk supplies as a means of the type of regrouping he has in mind. I ask my right hon. Friend why he takes this view if an efficient water supply is now being produced by this method and can in future be assured in particular cases by it. After all, Section 12 of the Water Act, 1945, provides for, and, indeed, encourages, such agreements. As my right hon. Friend knows, he has under that Section a specific provision for compulsory powers to be used to effect an agreement for bulk supplies if need be.
Would my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he has now decided to abandon or ignore Section 12 of the 1945 Act, and to concentrate on the powers given him to force the amalgamation compulsorily under Section 9? If he has decided to do that, I would like to know what are his reasons. The House will appreciate that it is a much stronger line than was contemplated originally by the Act. It is the shadow of the big stick, though I do not say that it is the big stick itself.
My third point is a short one. It has been said several times this afternoon that the majority of the water undertakings of this country are run by local authorities. It should be borne in mind by everybody who is considering this problem that regrouping, amalgamation, the setting up of the larger units—whatever their relationship, if any, to local authorities and however it may be arranged— is another blow to local government.
After all, joint boards are a step removed from the ratepayer and are not directly responsible to the electorate. This is an important point. It has happened with public utilities and in many other spheres. We have seen the building up of national bodies, all of whom have been at one remove from the elector. The ratepayers and the electors have direct access to their councillors, who are members of the authority which is running the water undertaking in a number of cases. By this method, however, we shall be inserting a further screen between the electors and the supplier of another necessity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) mentioned paragraph 11 of the circular, which gives the arrange- 1252 ments for keeping water charges low for an authority or for a water undertaking which would have to raise its charges by the very reason of entering into an amalgamation or a joint board. He mentioned Honiton, a town in my constituency. I would point out that the arrangement provided for in the circular is only a temporary one, and in the case of Honiton the ratepayers, the consumers of water, have been given a respite for ten years, so that at the end of that period they will get the shock of the higher water charges. An increasing number of amalgamations will be necessary, but I am convinced that inevitably this will mean higher costs.
I want to give one example from my own constituency, the town of Exmouth, which is recognised as running one of the most efficient water undertakings in the West Country. The present output is on the average nearly 1 million gallons a day. Moreover, there is a proposal in existence to supply an additional 1 million gallons to a neighbouring area. Those plans are in being and can go ahead under a bulk supply system. I am informed that on any calculation which has been made, the increase in water charges to the people already receiving supplies in Exmouth will be considerable. The House will appreciate that there are difficulties in working out an exact calculation, but it is clear that this will happen. Even if paragraph 11 of the circular is brought into operation, it will be only a temporary respite.
There is one other aspect which I have no doubt my right hon. Friend has in mind. In these rural areas there is often a reluctance on the part of efficient undertakings to absorb a number of so-called black spots, or weaker brethren, or less efficient water undertakings. That is because this would have the inevitable result that an efficient undertaking must divert some of its resources and energies to make the others efficient, with the net result of lessening their own efficiency.
I recognise fully the need for a sustained programme which will bring a greater degree of water grouping and piped water to every house and farm in this country. I ask my right hon. Friend to put his big stick in the cupboard, and realise that compulsion should be used only with reluctance in this regard. As has been said, this is primarily a local 1253 matter. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to allow plans to be worked out locally. Already, in the West Country we have heard a whisper that dictation from London is coming. I ask my right hon. Friend to allay those fears.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
The difference between hon. Members on this side of the House and some hon. Members opposite is that they are urging the Minister to put a brake on the development of water schemes while we are asking that he take his courage in both hands and go ahead with plans to ensure that every area of the country enjoys a pure water supply. It is typical of hon. Members opposite that they should regard this from a purely local point of view, and be concerned about the cost rather than the advantages. A piped supply of pure water is a national advantage both for human beings and for cattle. We cannot exaggerate the importance of an ample supply of pure water.
Towns have taken their water supplies from the rural areas, and the original mistake was to permit the water to go to the towns without imposing an obligation to supply the local inhabitants at the same time. Our job is by no means complete. The time has not yet come when we should try to put the brake on progress in this direction.
In the election address which I issued when I first stood as a candidate for membership of the Norfolk County Council, in 1934, I said that I was in favour of a comprehensive scheme to supply piped water to every farm in Norfolk. I was probably the first person in Norfolk to ask for that, and I am rather proud of it. In the area where I am a member of the rural district council we had no piped water supplies at the end of the war, but now there is no village without a supply, and very few houses.
Although we have completed that task, the scheme is not comprehensive. We judged each area and took into account its natural resources. In some villages local supplies have been developed and, by means of electricity and a pressure supply, a whole village may be supplied automatically with little inconvenience and at a low cost. In some districts such a system could be worked for a considerable time, but eventually the underground 1254 reservoirs may prove inadequate to meet the need and then it would be necessary to link them with areas where the supply is greater. Probably the quickest way to provide a supply of water is by a deep bore, but where underground reservoirs are not available a larger scheme is necessary.
In Norfolk, the development is uneven. Some areas still have no piped water supply and the local authorities in those areas are not making progress with plans to provide such a supply. I urge the Minister to persuade these local authorities to take the necessary action and not to allow local prejudice to stand in the way. Sometimes, the boundaries of rural districts prove an obstacle, because there may be an abundant supply of water just over the boundary in an adjoining area. In such cases, the Minister should try to persuade the local authorities to provide water by means of a bulk supply or a general scheme.
This is necessary not only for domestic supplies, but for supplies of water for agricultural purposes. Norfolk lies on the drier side of England and we need supplies of water both for cattle and for the irrigation of crops. We find it necessary to take a long view, to plan ahead, to ensure that the needs of the community are met.
It may be unfortunate that the responsible local authorities are rural district councils. It might have been wiser to have made the county councils responsible for schemes of water supply from the start. Then they could have employed engineers with sufficient knowledge to plan the development of their water resources. Rarely do small rural district councils have consulting engineers on the spot. Usually, the engineers have their headquarters in London and they have not sufficient local knowledge to be able to develop the water resources in the most economical way. Certainly, they have been able to make the work more costly than otherwise it would have been.
I should prefer to see county councils with capable water engineers on their staffs so that the water resources of the whole county might be developed. Therefore, far from urging the Minister to put away his big stick, I urge him to bring it out, and to say to local authorities which have not piped water supplies that they 1255 must provide them within a reasonable period so that the inhabitants in their areas may enjoy the advantages of a piped supply of pure water.
Small local prejudices should not be allowed to stand in the way of such development. Water is a necessity and the supply of it should be abundant and cheap. That should be the aim of the Government and of all local authorities. I urge the Minister to turn a deaf ear, as it were, to some of the pleas made from the benches behind him, asking him to take into consideration almost anything rather than the need, from the point of view of our national health, of a fully developed pure water supply covering all the villages of rural England.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubert Ashton (Chelmsford)
In rising to address the House on this subject, I must at once say that I have an interest, in that for the past year or more I have been President of the Water Companies' Association. Perhaps I may be allowed to add that it is an office without profit.
I have listened with much interest to the speeches on this vital subject. The speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), who comes from the very dry part of East Anglia and complains about the shortage of water supplies in rural areas—of which we are aware—when compared with the speeches of his hon. Friends from Wales, in whose areas a large volume of water falls but who are still short of supplies, underlines that this is a problem with many diverse aspects. It might, perhaps, be of advantage at the outset to bear in mind what is the present position.
The industry today, made up of many different companies and local authorities, is supplying about 2,000 million gallons of water per day at a cost, for the average family, of Is. per day, the price of a pint of beer; and those supplies are going to 97 per cent, of the country. That is an achievement which cannot be bettered anywhere in the world. I do not say that there are not places where there is still room for a good deal of improvement. That is what this debate is about, of course. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and my hon. Friend the Member for 1256 Totnes (Mr. Mawby) have done the country a service in enabling this discussion to take place, and I believe that it is taking place on the basis that we all are anxious to ensure that that extremely valuable commodity, water, is conserved, used and distributed in the best possible manner.
So far as I can gather from our debate, from the White Paper, and from discussions in the Press, there is, on the one hand, the approach inherent in the circular which has been quoted, namely, that there should be some quite major measure of re-organisation and amalgamation; whereas, on the other hand, I gather from some of the remarks made by hon. Gentlemen opposite that they say, in effect, "Why stop at two or three hundred undertakings; why not go to one?"
A number of figures have been quoted, and the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes)—I am sorry he is not in his place—said that the statutory water companies were distributing about 12½ per cent, of the water supplies in the country. That is, I believe, an understatement. The figure is approximately 20 per cent. But however that may be, the hon. Gentleman dismissed those undertakers with a wave of his hand, and said, in effect, that in any proposals which ought to be made for a national plan, all those companies would automatically be taken over.
The attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite towards the nationalisation of water is not very clear or specific. A number of different things have been said. I would beg them, if I may, with great respect and humility, to realise that it would be a pity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes said, if we were to approach the problem of supplying water as though it were similar to that of supplying electricity. There are many respects in which the two are widely different. There are the dry parts of East Anglia, as I said, and the wet parts of Wales, and there are available supplies from springs and rivers throughout our island. The problem varies tremendously from area to area and over quite short distances.
At the moment, with some hope that they will soon be available, we are awaiting certain vital reports of the engineering inspectors of the Department. Thirty-one have been published already, but there 1257 are further reports to come, and some of us are waiting to see them before considering further the possibility of amalgamation. In my view, there is here a problem wherein reorganisation and amalgamation along the lines suggested by the Minister in his White Paper, in the circular, and in his recent speeches, will constitute the fundamentally sound approach.
The country as a whole has seen a great deal of nationalisation, and I am not sure that people are really prepared for much more. I doubt it. If hon. Members opposite were perfectly fair with themselves, they might well feel that certain aspects of nationalisation have not, perhaps, given the results which they, in 1945, told us would come about; and their expectations have not been fulfilled. Let us not approach the matter in any sort of dogmatic way, but let us rather approach it realising how many aspects it has, how many problems are involved, and how vitally important it is for our future.
§ Mr. John Edwards (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he speaks with very great authority on these matters. He said just now that he wanted to wait a little longer until he had certain further engineering reports before he could decide on amalgamation. I put this point to him and ask for his view about it. He will recollect that the original Statute under which we operate goes back to the Coalition Government. That is a very long time ago. How long are the companies going to wait before they make up their minds on amalgamation, considering that the Statute is now twelve years old?
§ Mr. Ashton
I am much obliged; I am glad to have an opportunity to make the point clear. I wanted to deal with this matter rather on a country-wide basis. The particular report I had in mind, however, when I spoke about that aspect was that relating to my own county area of Essex, and also of Hertford and Suffolk. In the country as a whole, particularly around London, there have been enormous movements of population, involving great changes in the requirement for water. There have been some very valuable and helpful reports already. I realise that there has been some delay, and that is something which, I know, is 1258 in the mind of my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary.
The whole nation—I include hon. Members of the House in this—is very careless about turning off taps. Water has been altogether too cheap. We have not realised what a valuable commodity it is, but now we have a chance of reexamining the whole matter, and our realisation of the problem is becoming clearer. In considering, on the one hand, the approach through reorganisation and amalgamation on a major scale, let us not overlook the fact that, since these discussions began, about 150 water undertakers have, during the last few years, become amalgamated in one way or another. That is progress. I believe that additional progress along those lines will shortly—and, once it starts, possibly quite quickly—be made.
I do not want to be dogmatic. There may be a perfectly sound and clear argument on the other side, and no doubt we shall hear about that today; but, in a matter of such vital importance to us all, I hope that we shall all approach the matter objectively, and that ultimately the point of view which I have supported will be successful and will predominate. However, let us, above all things, bear in mind how vital is the subject that we are discussing, and how important it is for our country that our water supplies for the future for all purposes shall be assured.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
I want to put briefly a question to the Minister concerning pollution, which has not so far been mentioned today. I think it is true that almost every second advertisement on commercial television refers to some kind of detergent. I should like the Minister to cast his mind back to the Report of the Committee on Synthetic Detergents, because that is a matter which has a great deal to do with our future water supplies.
In the Midlands, and particularly on our large rivers, we are experiencing a catastrophe. When the traffic goes through the locks, the foam or the rubbery scum from these detergents is being blown out to such an extent that it is floating and drifting right over the tops of the boats and making it difficult to man them through the locks on the big rivers. 1259 This is an important matter for us in that we have five or six rather substantial rivers in the Midlands. I ask the Minister seriously to consider this pollution which is occurring and which arises, in the main, from the wide use of detergents.
If the Minister has seen any of our waterworks or sewage disposal plants recently, he will understand the menace of this, not foam, but a rubbery dirty scum which is clogging the wheels of the locks and the machinery at the waterworks and sewage depots. I hope that the Minister will pay serious attention to this menace, which is recent in origin but is becoming a greater menace every day. There is great concern in and around the Midland towns.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)
I was sorry that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) thought that Members on this side of the House were seeking to apply the brake to progress in the supply of piped water. I do not believe it to be true, but I will meet the hon. Member's argument to this extent: that if I had to use the brake or the big stick, I would prefer the brake every time. What hon. Members on this side are seeking to do is to point out what may hold up progress in regrouping and prevent quicker progress. It is to that end that I should like to address a few remarks.
When there are a number of small undertakings in, say, a county and when one of them, which may be a local authority—perhaps the county council— has strong views—opposition to the proposal, if it is by Private Bill, is an expensive matter, and it is difficult for the smaller undertaking to come to a decision whether to co-operate or not, unless it knows the terms on which it can take part in the regrouping.
The proposal in my county, I understand, is that the undertakings shall have their loan debt taken over from them, and that is all. The extent of the loan debt may depend upon a great many factors. It may be the result of energy in taking piped water in difficult circumstances to rather distant hamlets and the like. On the other hand, it may be the result of prudent administration which has sought, within the limit of the charge, to pay off some of the loan debt.
1260 I suggest that if a whole undertaking is to be taken over by the new board, the fair basis of merging would be the value of the undertaking apart from the loan debt. The equity must surely have some value. I am not concerned with whether it is owned by individuals or by the local authority on behalf of the ratepayers. The equity of an efficient undertaking has a value, and if it goes into a bigger undertaking, as most of us hope that it will, it should have money or money's worth in the regrouped undertaking.
Do not let us forget that there have been progressive landlords in the rural areas who have gone ahead of the water undertakings. Where supplies were available, they have harnessed the water and installed the necessary machinery and the cottages and houses on their land have been supplied privately with piped water for a considerable time. If anything like the big stick is to be used, are those people to be compelled to come in and take piped water from the regrouped board? If not, are they to be charged water rate for something which they will not want? What will be their position?
The earlier that a regrouping arrangement is proposed and the earlier that all the conditions can be disclosed to all the people concerned, the quicker will agreement be reached as to how the regrouping can best be done. No big stick can result in the same answer being found for all the different parts of the country. They have their own particular problems.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will consider some of the arguments used in this debate, including the use of piped water for sewage schemes, which are within the scope of his Department, and put out to the local authorities, perhaps in the form of guidance, his views on how he thinks the regrouping of water undertakings can proceed as quickly as possible. I am quite convinced that the quickest way is by mutual understanding and agreement in the areas concerned.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I do not propose to detain the House for very long, but I wish to make one or two observations on the general question raised in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw).
1261 It is astonishing that whenever the question of the development of our water supplies arises, there is a tendency to get involved in party politics. Hon. Members opposite, like the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton), for example, at once take us to task for considering that the royal road to the solution is by nationalisation, whereas the hon. Member himself took the opposite view. The fact is that we rely upon municipal enterprise for the major water supplies of the country.
The private companies are diminishing assets—and I am glad to see it. They were never able to match the need. They had neither the capital nor the influence. The municipal authorities, therefore, had to step in as a matter of sheer necessity. But at present there are serious shortcomings with which we are faced because neither private nor municipal enterprise can do what is necessary.
The urgent element in this issue is not the town but the rural area. How is it proposed to face up to the development of rural water supplies for Wales? Is it to be on the basis of municipal enterprise or of private enterprise? The majority of the towns in Wales have a population of not more than 5,000, and many of them have less. In my own home town we have a population of about 2,750, and a penny rate produces about £20. The nearest town on either side is fourteen miles away; we are in the heart of central Wales, where the majority of people are without a piped water supply.
How is it proposed to deal with this problem in that part of the country? I should imagine that what is typical of that part of rural Wales is also typical of the rural areas of Scotland and England. I cannot see how this rural development—which is so urgent for agricultural, domestic and industrial purposes—can be achieved unless a wider basis is provided.
I do not think that I should be guilty of any more dogmatic or doctrinaire attitude in advocating nationalisation here than I should be if I were to say, "Thank goodness that we have a Post Office which is a nationalised undertaking, with some public accountability for what it does." The question of rural water supplies is one of the most urgent of those public questions which by its nature is amenable to the process of nationalisation.
1262 The urgent need today is to secure some unification of the whole of our water supplies and to subject them to some central authority, so that we may know just exactly where we are in the matter of our need for water. We should consider how best we can meet the need, which is felt so urgently by people in our rural communities.
I have lived through the period of agitations that have been aroused in regard to this matter. I am just old enough to remember being impressed by the battles which were so bitterly waged in my part of the country when the Birmingham City Council decided upon the famous Elan Valley scheme. I was entirely outside the scope of the campaign then because I was not capable of self-expression to the limited extent that I am now. Having viewed the scene since, I am all for the civil engineering scheme that we have in the Elan Valley, not only because of its economic efficiency but because it enhances the beauty of the landscape.
I must be careful now, because I do not want to get out of order, but there is an increasing amount of controversy, involving the Liverpool Corporation and the Welsh people, in relation to the proposed reservoir at Tryweryn. This House is handicapped in its task of answering the question whether we should endorse Liverpool Corporation's representations or, say, Manchester Corporation's demands for an increased water supply.
The whole procedure is wrong. Responsibility ought not to lie with any municipal corporation or with any private undertaking, and it should not lie even with the Central Electricity Board in relation to hydro-electric schemes such as the Rheiddol Valley scheme. There ought to be a central body responsible for surveying our water supplies and for knowing exactly where the needs of the community are most greatly felt. That body should have the responsibility of advising the Government of the day as to the way in which such needs should be met; and any such proposals should be brought before Parliament in that way.
I welcome the terms of the Amendment, but it does not go far enough. Amalgamation will not increase the water supply; it can only mean tidier administration and some measure of economy. 1263 The regrouping of these water supplies may well involve a measure of redundancy for the employees. Here I must declare an interest, as a national officer of the National Union of Public Employees. A very large proportion of our employees are employed by these undertakings, and I should like to be assured by the Parliamentary Secretary that if there is any redundancy the rights of those men will be duly recognised in accordance with the well established legal precedents governing such discharges.
Those are my views upon the general question. Without the slightest qualification I can say that I am a wholehearted supporter of the unification of our water supplies, brought about by some scheme of nationalisation. That is the only hope of our getting, in rural Wales and in other rural parts of Britain, a water supply which is so very necessary.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
It is quite obvious that hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the importance of every household having a piped water supply. Many thanks are due to my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) for initiating this debate and enabling us to air our views. There is a fundamental split between the two sides of the House on the question how that desirable situation can best be brought about.
§ Mr. Baldwin
The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) spoke about nationalisation, and rather suggested that if it comes about redundancy should be watched so that employees of various local authorities are not put out of work. I suggest that the hon. Member need not be afraid of that because when the nationalisation of water supplies comes about there will be no surplus employees. It will be a case of building up little empires, and the cost of water will increase enormously.
§ Mr. Baldwin
My County of Herefordshire is threatened with the big stick, and 1264 it has been threatened with it now for two or three years. I believe that only one local authority was in favour of the county water board at one time: the others have been either frightened or persuaded to give their half-hearted support to the idea.
I cannot understand why a county like mine, with innumerable springs, of water oozing out of the fresh earth, should want to undertake a water supply scheme whereby water will be brought out of the river, put into a reservoir, rejuvenated and used again after having been used several times before. With all the little water springs that we have in the countryside we should not need any big undertakings. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) said that 3£ million people were still not getting a piped water supply. Nobody knows how many people there are without such a supply. We can only estimate by considering the figures relating to those who are not getting a water supply from local undertakings at the present moment.
Not many people, even in the most remote districts, do not get a fresh water supply of some sort. I live in a very sparsely populated part of Herefordshire. and I can speak personally on this matter. I have harnessed five springs, and I am getting on with harnessing the sixth, and I am supplying fourteen dwellings, three or four sets of farm buildings and several hundred acres of land. That fresh water supply is being obtained at very low cost indeed. In fact, one of the supplies is a gravitation supply, which involves no expense at all. If people were enterprising and harnessed up these springs that exist they could give a fresh water supply to all the remote districts which such districts will never get if there is a compulsory scheme.
There are many people in my county who are supporting the idea of a piped water supply because they think that even if they live in a remote district they will get that supply, I can assure them that they have not the slightest chance of getting a supply if they live right away from where the mains will be, I hope that they will think again before supporting the idea of a water board for Herefordshire.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Does that mean that my hon. Friend is opposed to Ministerial 1265 policy? Am I correct in saying that there is a difference of opinion on this side of the House?
§ Mr. Baldwin
No. I think that the difference of opinion which exists is this. We on this side of the House all agree that it would be wise to have a voluntary system of amalgamating existing water supplies where that is necessary, and on the other side of the House it is suggested that a voluntary scheme will not produce results and that nationalisation is required.
As has been pointed out, there has been, since the White Paper came out, an amalgamation of about 150 water undertakings, and therefore I think that it must be recognised that a voluntary grouping of water undertakings is taking place. What we want the Minister to do is to encourage that voluntary spirit which exists between the different water undertakings.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
I gather that the hon. Member is opposed to a water board for Herefordshire? Would it not be possible for a water board to promote small schemes? The fact that there is a water board does not mean that it is always necessary to have one big scheme.
§ Mr. Baldwin
That is an ideal, but I fear that that is not happening when these boards are formed. It seems to me that they want to build a little empire and employ as many people as possible because the bigger their empire the bigger their salaries. I want to see our little local undertakings, which are running very efficiently at the present time, encouraged and helped by the Government rather than that we should go in for a tremendously expensive scheme in a county which is very sparsely populated, and where it will mean miles of pipes to take the water to various places.
I am reinforced in my view by what my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) said. He lives in the West Country and has carried out several schemes with his own water supplies and he, like myself, is anxious to have some information from my hon. Friend when he replies to the debate. We have our existing water supply and if a compulsory scheme comes in we shall not take part in it, because we prefer the water that we have rather than the stuff which they bring 1266 us, which is rejuvenated. I had enough of rejuvenated water when I was in the the Army, and I do not want to drink any more of it.
I want to retain my own water supply. I want to know how those of us who have gone to the expense of getting our own water supply will be dealt with under the compulsory scheme for the county. Will it mean that we shall be compelled to contribute through rates or otherwise towards the county scheme although we are making no demand on or calling for any expense from the county?
§ Mr. Nabarro
Suppose that Herefordshire has a surplus of water, and Worcestershire, next door, requires some of that water? If there is a Herefordshire scheme on the one hand and a Worcestershire scheme on the other, is there to be any provision, under my hon. Friend's arrangement, for Herefordshire supplying Worcestershire compulsorily or otherwise?
§ Mr. Baldwin
Yes. If there is any compulsion necessary I should like to see it where there is a good spring in a district; if the owner of that spring is not co-operative he should be made to allow an undertaking to use that spring for the benefit of the community.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I have a small private reservoir which supplies my house and which gives me an excellent supply of water very cheaply. Is my hon. Friend suggesting, as a true Conservative, that someone should be allowed to come to me brandishing a big stick and demanding that my water supply should be given to someone else?
§ Mr. Baldwin
Very definitely no. I am suggesting that anyone who is using a spring should be compelled to allow that spring to be used by other people. My hon. Friend asked about a spring in one county being used in another. I can give him an instance in respect of the extreme boundary of my constituency which joins his, where there is a small brook bubbling out of the earth and flows into the River Teme, which is only a few hundred yards away. That lovely spring is not made use of. If it were harnessed it could supply a great area of land in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. County boundaries should not enter into consideration in respect of these water 1267 schemes. The boundaries of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire meet in one small town, and obviously if a scheme were to be forced on a county it would be very difficult to know how to work three different undertakings in the same town.
I think that where there are springs in the countryside that are running to waste and not being made use of steps should be taken voluntarily, if we can do so, to see that those springs are used for the benefit of the local people. I hope, therefore, that the Government will not wield the big stick. I hope that they will do what they can by way of voluntary amalgamations, if that is necessary, but I am afraid that if they use the big stick and come into my county, those people who are now advocating and wanting this county board will find that instead of the cost of a pint of beer being sufficient—as one of my hon. Friends has said—to give a household its water supply for a week, it will take the price of a gallon of beer to do so. Therefore, I hope that my county will take a very strong line with the Government if they insist on compelling them to undertake that extravagant scheme.
If the Government want to undertake any compulsory schemes they might do so in East Anglia, where I think that some of the people have to rely for their supply on soft water coming off the roofs. I think that that is a part of the country where a compulsory scheme might be tried, if one wants to try one at all. We do not want that in the West of England, where we have sufficient water. I cannot understand my hon. Friends from Wales, where there are so many good springs running to waste, wanting to come into a scheme where the water has to be pumped out of a river or brook. I suggest that if the small springs were harnessed they would give a better and a cheaper supply than if there were a compulsory board.
The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen mentioned the Birmingham water works. When I go to Birmingham or any of those big towns I never drink water. When I see the collecting area and what can get into the Elan Valley and Birmingham reservoirs I never feel very inclined to drink any of that water, and if there is to be any fall-out from 1268 hydrogen bombs I shall be very glad that I am supplied with fresh water from God's earth rather than out of the river.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)
I was interested in the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), who takes a dislike to the Birmingham municipal water supply undertaking, because the point I intended to make was that there could not be a better example of the efficient utilisation of water than is given by that undertaking, which is a complete vindication of municipal Socialism. This was a scheme pioneered in the heyday of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, in the early part of his career and before he had departed from those various schemes of municipalisation for which Birmingham is so famous. Birmingham's piped water is remarkably cheap.
The hon. Member for Leominster said that a piped water supply would be more costly than the existing arrangements in the countryside. Living in Birmingham, as well as representing part of it, I think that it would be almost impossible to supply water for the industries and the inhabitants of such a city more cheaply than we supply it at present. It is from the efficiency of cities like Birmingham that we should take our lesson when considering rural supplies and a national water scheme.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Is there any proposal in Birmingham to make the products of this "splendid Socialism" available to the people in the catchment area from which Birmingham derives its water, by giving them a reasonable amount of water?
§ Mr. Howell
I am happy to tell the hon. Member, who represents a Welsh constituency, that we do this. Along the whole length of our pipeline from the Elan and Claerwyn valleys to Birmingham we sell water at cost prices or without making a great profit to inhabitants. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not all along."] Well, practically along the whole length of the pipe line. We are happy to come to a suitable arrangement with local authorities. Not only that, but we sell water beyond our boundaries to places like Solihull, Coventry and Nuneaton. We are always ready and anxious to enter into an agreement.
1269 I quite agree that water should be regulated. That is the basis of my remarks today. Anybody with experience of droughts will agree. The only experience I have is that a few years ago I was invited by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), a Cornish constituency, to have a holiday there. I went, and found myself in the middle of a drought. It was then forcibly impressed upon me that for places like Cornwall the present system is chaotic. The reason we are having this debate, upon an Amendment by a Conservative hon. Member is that private enterprise water has utterly and miserably failed.
The hon. Member was not here during my speech. Had he been here he would understand what proposals I put forward. As he was not, I hope that he will not attempt to misrepresent what I said
§ Mr. Howell
The hon. Member says, quite rightly, that I was not here, and as I was not here I cannot be accused of misrepresenting what I have not heard. I am only stating the elementary fact that we would not be discussing the seriousness of our water supply if present arrangements had been satisfactory. That is a very simple proposition which even the hon. Member ought to be able to understand.
§ Mr. Howell
I quite understand what we are talking about and will make my speech in my own way. The fact that it does not satisfy Government supporters is personally satisfying to me.
We must have some system or method by which we can gauge the future water needs of industry and the population. In Birmingham, we have just opened, at great cost, the great Claerwyn dam which, at one stroke, doubled the amount of water available to us. Very soon after doing that we found, because of the rapid increase in the consumption of water, particularly by industry, that there were grave fears that the water supply would be insufficient to meet the demand in 1270 years to come. That is happening throughout the country, as far as one can gather.
I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle). No one, apart from the Minister, has the job of taking stock of the water position, of deciding where new townships will be put, with their new industries, and of looking at industrial trends with a view to deciding how much more water will be needed for industry in ten or fifteen years. That job is not being done.
I have listened to the last four speeches from the Government side of the House and in none of them was there a suggestion how we might tackle this job, apart from the remarks of the hon. Member who spoke as President of a Water Association. It has not even been remotely suggested that it is within the capacity of the water industry, as it is now, to solve it. I do not believe that the industry, either left as it is now or under the proposals in the White Paper, can solve it.
We must face the necessity of having some form of national water supply, not only for the rural areas but to meet the ever-increasing demands of industrial areas. Being a strong local-Government man I should like to see the task tackled in a local government manner. I would like to see large local authorities dealing with it on a regional basis and putting the necessary investment capital into it to produce a water supply. We need national planning machinery. Unless we have a national water association, similar to the Central Electricity Authority, working upon a scientific assessment of our future needs, we shall make very little progress. I would like a scientific survey, and then public water authorities to be grouped in large geographical units, to administer the scheme as successfully as we do in Birmingham.
Nobody who knows what has happened in the coal industry, and in the electricity industry in regard to rural electrification, will believe for one moment the jibe that some hon. Members were inclined to put out during this debate upon fuel and power. Anybody who sees with an open mind what is happening in electricity, and especially in regard to rural electrification under nationalisation, can only 1271 come to the conclusion that it is most encouraging indeed and certainly would not have been done if electricity had been left under the old hotchpotch set-up.
In considering getting new and adequate supplies of water, we need also to consider a central authority to deal with the problem of waste. The problem of wasted water is not being tackled at all. Every day in this country we waste millions of gallons of water because of outdated designs of lavatory plumbing. How many times do 50 million people go to the lavatory and pull the chain three or four times before they can flush it properly? I estimate that we could make a saving of millions of pounds by proper designing and plumbing arrangements. That is a simple illustration and there must be many others of the waste of millions of gallons of water which we can ill afford. The Minister should direct his attention to that problem.
The question of river pollution is slightly outside the scope of this debate, but if we are to collect water and make it available, we also have to make available means for the drainage of that water to get rid of it. There, again, is a problem which should be tackled with greater vigour than is shown at present. The supply, the estimated demand, the disposal of water and its waste all add up to the need for having some national body, planning—and, I hope, responsible to Parliament—to meet the requirements.
I do not believe that hon. Members opposite, because of their basic philosophy, have the answers to this problem, but I believe that hon. Members on this side of the House have the answers. I hope that the next Labour Government, which will not be far away, will be able to implement those answers as part of their programme.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Edwards (Brighouse and Spenborough)
The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) has done the House a great service today by using his place in the Ballot to introduce a debate on this very important matter. The Amendment is couched in relatively limited administrative terms, which means that one can only make such incidental reference to legislative action as you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may think relevant. Behind the administrative terms 1272 of this Amendment we have seen and recognised already in this debate that we are discussing a very important matter, which is serious if not critical. Anything that the Minister does to speed up any of the various schemes which are needed in urban or rural areas will get full support from this side of the House.
I express my personal pleasure that the Minister has bestirred himself on this question and spoken about it in the country. We are awaiting reports, I understand, from the two committees appointed in October, 1955, one on the growing demand for water and the other on the parallel problem of information on water resources. We are discussing what is primarily a public service. It is true that there are private companies, but the overwhelming majority of the water supplies of this country are in the hands of the local authorities. Those authorities vary from the enormously large authority, like the Metropolitan Water Board, to the relatively small authority.
When the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border referred to the essentially local character of water undertakings, I think he was using a phrase which cannot be generally applied. It can be applied in many cases, but when we get Welshmen in Liverpool seeking to get water from Welshmen in Wales we get into a difficult problem and the kind of questions raised by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) show that here we are dealing with a complicated matter on which, in my judgment, it is not safe to make generalisations. I leave the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the critics on his own side of the House. Some of them, I thought, were quite wide of the mark, but doubtless he will have his own way of answering them.
I have been interested in water supplies for a very long time. I began my interest by serving on the Yorkshire Ouse Catchment Board, although there the interest was in getting rid of water through drainage.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
Do we take it that my right hon. Friend is seeking to close the debate on the problem under discussion?
§ Mr. Edwards
My hon. Friend asks whether I am seeking to close the debate. That is not so. I merely thought that 1273 this was a convenient time at which to make my statement, but I am not in a position to close the debate. So far as I am aware, Standing Orders would not permit of me to close the debate in any way.
§ Mr. Slater
On a point of order. Can we know whether this is the closing of the debate, whether it is to end at seven o'clock, in view of the fact that other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
This debate finishes at seven o'clock because there is a Private Bill put down for consideration at that time. Whether the debate on the Private Bill will run to ten o'clock I do not know, but I gather that many hon. Members want to speak in that debate and, therefore, this debate will virtually end at seven o'clock.
§ Mr. Edwards
I was saying that I have been interested in this matter for some years. Ten years ago I was occupying the position of the Parliamentary Secretary and was very much involved in this question. I think I can say that at that time I was passionately devoted to water. It interested me to find that almost all the hon. Members—not all, but nearly everyone—who have spoken so far were not in this House in those days when, for example, we debated the 1948 Water Bill. I was at the Ministry of Health, which then had this responsibility and I was aware of three major problems of water supply which had to be disposed of before the water supplies of England and Wales could be said to be properly efficient.
First, we needed a very large programme of new works in the urban areas. We needed that because of the arrears caused by the war and because we wanted to meet the needs of new housing estates, new towns, and so on. We needed it for industrial expansion and because we wanted higher standards of hygiene. If my memory serves me corectly, in 1948 or 1949 we estimated that those works would cost at least about £80 million. My hunch is that, allowing for the eroding influences of inflation, we probably still need works of that order.
The second thing we wanted was provision of piped supplies in rural areas for domestic and agricultural uses. In those days we estimated that that programme 1274 would cost not far short of £50 million. The third problem was what was called rationalisation of the existing local administrative units. I believe I can say today that those are still the three major problems. Although time has passed, and it is nine or ten years since those estimates were made, we are still faced with essentially the same problems. If the Parliamentary Secretary will not accept that nationalisation is the right way of handling the matter, I hope that I shall carry him with me when I say that rationalisation is certainly essential. The hon. Member who opened the debate told us that there were more than 1,000 statutory water undertakers. He told us that 120 of those undertakers supply three-quarters of the population.
I would point out that the need for rationalisation is by no means limited to the large number of small undertakings supplying 25 per cent, of the population. The great majority of undertakings, both large and small, operate over areas which have not been planned, but have been a piecemeal growth and have not been determined in any way by the considerations which we now believe ought to govern modern systems of water supply. After all, what do we want? I submit that what we seek in a water undertaking is, first, an organisation capable of providing a wholesome and abundant supply of water for all purposes at all times. Secondly, we want an undertaking which will have a revenue resulting from reasonable charges to householders, trade, industry and other users which will cover its outgoings but will not turn the undertaking into a profit-making concern.
Thirdly, we want to be sure that the existing resources will be fully used before new sources are developed, that additional supplies will be obtained at reasonable costs when needed, and that new and existing sources will be used to serve all the areas which are capable, in the light of the best engineering advice, of being economically served by them. Also, sources of water should not, through ignorance or through any false sense of parochialism, be reserved for the areas of the undertakings which develop the sources.
Finally, we want to be sure that an undertaking has competent administrative, technical, financial and other staff. It is my view that very few of the existing 1275 undertakings satisfy all those criteria. Many of them satisfy some of the criteria, but having regard to the fact that there are 1,000 undertakings, I feel that very few of them would satisfy all those criteria.
The need for supplies is most acute in rural areas. One of my hon. Friends pointed out that the undertakers in rural areas are nearly always the rural district councils. Even if the rural areas are within the limits of supply of larger undertakings, the rural district councils will usually be responsible for ensuring that supplies are afforded. This is partly because the expenditure is unremunerative and a sufficient income has to be guaranteed by them.
I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary would not agree with me that all our experience goes to show that the difficulties of supplying rural areas under the present system are well nigh insurmountable. There are very few rural district councils which have permanent staff able to design the schemes which are needed. The result is that schemes have to be designed, often at considerable expense, by the relatively few consulting engineers, who are overburdened by the work, for there is nothing like enough of them.
The boundaries of rural districts bear no relation to water supply areas, and, indeed, the whole business of negotiation which is required is of the sort to tax rural district councils, which, in some cases, may still be relying on part-time officials. Indeed, our experience of the negotiation of joint schemes bears out the view that if one embarks on a scheme one has in most cases to be prepared for two or three years' work before one can see it through.
Our experience shows that with the best will in the world rural district councils—I am not denying that, for the most part, rural district councils are very willing—are not strong enough to cope with the difficult and expensive business of rural water supplies. I believe that we shall have to have a radical change in responsibilities if what I believe the present Government desire—a rehabilitated countryside—is not to be prejudiced by lack of progress in the supply of water. I take the view that it is imperative that the State should take much more direct action in this matter.
1276 If we turn to urban areas, the situation is still difficult, even if somewhat different. Various surveys which have been made give abundant proof of the need for widespread amalgamations of undertakings supplying urban areas. In some cases, it is clear that one has to seek new sources. Large new sources in the case of the big urban concentrations have to be developed far afield. These sources have to be properly planned in order to serve large parts of the country.
When I spoke some years ago at a great celebration of the British Waterworks' Association, where I had the honour of proposing the toast of the Association, I said that in my own part of the country, the West Riding of Yorkshire, a map of the trunk mains would put any spider to shame. That was true. What is a difficult problem in rural areas becomes even more difficult in urban areas, because of the complicated character of the supply system.
It may be said that the machinery of the Water Act, using compulsion if necessary, will enable the Minister to effect any desirable amalgamations of undertakings. It is true that the Act gives the Minister very wide powers, but, all the same, I should have thought that our experience over the last twelve years would lead us to suppose that the machinery that we have is not adequate, that the processes are far too long and too cumbersome, and that there are far too many opportunities for obstruction by authorities actuated by very many different motives.
What happens? The procedure under the present system means a long job and scores, if not hundreds, of local inquiries and many disputed orders. It means a profitable source of income for certain persons who have to handle these matters and give expert evidence. I cannot see the the end of the process if the Minister is to rely solely on his present powers.
There are, of course, very many objections to the merger of undertakings, and I cannot believe that under the present Water Act procedure we can carry through the amalgamations which are badly needed in the big areas, such as greater London, the Midlands, and the industrial regions of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the North-East. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not suggesting for one minute that the Act has failed. It 1277 provides a convenient and inexpensive medium for undertakings to obtain new powers which were previously obtainable only by means of Private Bills and Provisional Orders. The existence of the main Act, modified by the 1948 Act, has assisted the Government in its efforts to review the country's water supplies in detail.
Nevertheless, I believe that there must be greater State participation. As I said just now, I should be out of order if I made any more than incidental reference to legislation, but what do we want done? We want a great new programme of work carried out to meet the crying needs of urban communities and to bring piped water supplies to rural areas. If we are to have such schemes carried out on a well-planned basis, then they must be so planned as to serve common needs and not merely the needs of an individual undertaking.
It is clear that in many cases water will have to be brought from distant sources. I should have thought that it followed from that that the whole scheme must be so designed as to serve the interests not only of those who are bringing the water but of other areas as well. If, as I believe to be true, our existing administrative areas are the results of a slow and unplanned development of water supplies for more than a century, and if I am right in supposing that our present areas are unsuited to modern conditions, then it follows that we must try to evolve ways and means of securing planning on a wider basis which will give us areas commensurate with our present needs and authorities able to afford competent staff and generally to do what is required.
The decision when to construct large works in advance of requirements is not at present an easy one for an authority to take, and I have noticed a tendency for undertakings to postpone that decision as long as possible. I guess, therefore, that here we really have to see a greater amount of State participation than has hitherto been envisaged. I would not today, Mr. Speaker, wish, nor would I be in order, to elaborate the kind of arrangements that I would think right.
Under the 1945 Water Act, the Minister has the duty imposed on him… to promote the conservation and proper use of water resources and the provision of 1278 water supplies in England and Wales and to secure the effective execution by water undertakers, under his control and direction, of a national policy relating to water.I would ask some hon. Members who have spoken to recognise that that is the duty that Parliament has imposed on the Minister. I trust that they will particularly note the phrase:… the effective execution by water undertakers, under his "—that is, the Minister's—control and direction, of a national policy relating to water.My feeling is that the Minister's powers are not really adequate for the duties imposed on him. By all means let us encourage him and support him in the use of all the powers he has, but I suggest that we should also ask him to consider whether it is not necessary for him to seek other powers as well.
The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, from what, I thought, was a splendid piece of analysis, did not draw the right conclusions. After all the things that he told us were wrong with the water supplies of the country and the undertakings, to come to the conclusion that what was needed was a gradual and steady progress did not seem to me to match the situation that he had described.
The truth is that every advance in public health has been impeded by the cry of those who say "All carrot and no stick". If we are to wait for this gradual and steady progress, some villages must meanwhile remain in mediaeval conditions, farm and other rural improvements are impeded, and industrial development is held up. That is serious from the point of view of the public health and of our economy. We must press on, and if the Minister takes that view we shall certainly support him in every way we can.
I live in London; that is to say, I normally have all the water that I need for my own purposes, or even for the needs of my garden. But from time to time I spend holidays in a small village in North Wales, where I live in a small cottage. I am lucky, because the spring is only about 50 yards away. The cottage overlooks the spring, and I see people coming with their buckets, or the farmers coming with their water carts. If I felt at all disposed to be complacent about this subject, the memory of that kind of spectacle would urge me to a more 1279 radical view, and to the view that I have developed just now.
This problem is not only an administrative one. It is, perhaps, not primarily an administrative one. I believe that, above all, it is an economic problem; that is to say, it is concerned with what we do with our national resources. Whatever we do about the administration, we shall need to increase the resources of capital and labour that we give to this vital public service.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)
We have had an interesting and, I should have thought by common consent, a most instructive debate on the subject of water. I have very much enjoyed the contribution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards)—as, indeed, I always do. He always speaks temperately and with great knowledge on subjects of this kind. I should also like to add to the congratulations of the right hon. Gentleman, my own to my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who was good enough to initiate this debate. Perhaps I might link with that, congratulations also to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), who made quite a fascinating and highly practical speech.
As one might have expected, this topic has not proved to be a bitterly controversial one, although some of my hon. Friends tell me that it has provoked some controversy in another place in recent times. I congratulate the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) on his references to Radnor and Montgomery and to the efforts of certain people of the city from which I come to impose their plans on his countrymen in Wales—I congratulate him on not being ruled out of order.
The Amendment welcomes the regrouping of water undertakings, and I am relieved to know that most of the speeches this afternoon have, in a broad sense, been in general support of the Amendment. It is fair to say that some of the speeches, certainly of those made by my hon. Friends, should be helpful in influencing some of the more hesitant local authorities to do what my right 1280 hon. Friend would like them to do at the present time.
It is natural that on these occasions we should be criticised by some hon. Members for not having gone far enough. That applies, in particular, to the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. And, of course, it is natural, also, that from this side we should be criticised for having gone too far. I do not wish to import into this debate any element of political controversy, because we have been singularly free from it, but in the post-war years the Labour Party has been consistently critical of the organisation of the water industry.
"Challenge to Britain" which was, I think, published in 1953, alleged that water authorities had grown up haphazardly, that many areas were badly served, and that there was a great deal of overlapping and waste throughout the country. At that time, and more recently in "Forward with Labour", in 1955, the party opposite referred to the need for public ownership. If I may say so without in any sense giving offence to hon. Members opposite, the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) did well to point out to the House that already 87 per cent, of the water industry is publicly owned, and that, therefore, to a large extent the issue of nationalisation is beside the point.
The hon. Member did well to point out that what we are really debating now is whether we need more or less planning of water organisation. It is clear that the Coalition White Paper, published, as the right hon. Gentleman said —
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
Before the Parliamentary Secretary leaves that point, will he do me the honour of reading the evidence given during the 23 days in which the Kent Water Bill was before a Committee of this House? What is said in "Challenge to Britain" is amply supported by that evidence.
§ Mr. Bevins
I am not challenging what is said there. I am pointing out that whatever may have been said, on both sides, from the point of view of political doctrine, it is the fact that, as the hon. Member for Anglesey pointed out, the bulk of the industry is already in public ownership, and that the real issue that we are debating is whether the planning that exists, and the powers possessed by my 1281 right hon. Friend are adequate to cope with the situation.
As I was saying, the Coalition White Paper was published in 1944. It advocated regrouping and, of course, it formed the basis of the Water Act of 1945, and was supported by the leaders of both political parties. It seems to me that there are only three conceivable alternative policies in this field. The first is outright nationalisation, which has not been very fervently advocated this afternoon. The second is regrouping of some sort, and the third is to leave matters substantially as they are. Whatever one may think about the merits or otherwise of these alternatives, I am sure that the whole House agrees with the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the object of policy should be to make sure that the. country has adequate supplies of good water both now and in the foreseeable future at as reasonable a price as possible.
It is true, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and other hon. Members, that our water industry as a whole has a record which is unrivalled throughout the civilised world. We ought to recognise that and we ought to give credit to all those who are active in the industry for that achievement. It is the case that nineteen out of every twenty people in England and Wales enjoy a good supply of piped water with a high standard of purity, and they get it at a reasonable cost—so reasonable, as has been said this afternoon, that a ton of drinking water costs no more than half a pint of beer or a pint and a half of another beverage to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is so partial.
May I say a word about the structure of this industry? I confirm what has been said in this debate, that we have about 100 undertakings, all of them efficient, and some very efficient, which supply more Chan half of our total population. Where necessary, we want these larger undertakings, which on the whole are competent and do a good job of work, to co-operate with the smaller undertakings so as to bring the whole country's supply under the administration of competent units.
As has been said repeatedly today, the weakness of the industry lies in the 1282 fact that the rest of our population— rather less than one-half—is provided for by about 900 separate undertakings none of which supplies more than 50,000 people; about 600 supply fewer than 20,000 people, and as many as 400 of them supply fewer than 10,000.
As the right hon. Gentleman has very rightly said, this leads to certain very obvious disadvantages, because so long as there are so many units working in isolation it is quite impossible to use our water resources to the best advantage. This naturally leads, in some parts of the country, to undertakers in adjoining areas embarking on the preparation of separate schemes which duplicate each other and are liable to lead to wasteful expenditure. As we should expect, many of our people who are still without piped water in areas like Anglesey, Mid-Wales and elsewhere, live in the very areas for which these small undertakings are responsible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes referred to the difficulties which these small undertakings very naturally have in securing the services of highly trained technical staff—
§ Mr. C. Hughes
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that for the last twelve years Anglesey has had a county water scheme which was brought about by a Private Act of Parliament, and that piped water has now been brought to the majority of the homes in the county? Remarkable progress has been made.
§ Mr. Bevins
I did not mean to imply that all the people in Anglesey are without piped water, but there are a few, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
I was saying that many of these smaller local authorities are not able, for financial reasons, to recruit the right technical men for the job. Very often one finds that a surveyor is responsible not only for water, for which he is not as well qualified as he might be, but perhaps for a host of other services as well. Although I know quite a number of these men in local government, and I assure the House that I have the very highest regard for their industry and their desire to do a good job in the public service, I cannot help feeling that many of these small local authorities are faced with very great difficulties.
1283 Very few of them, for example, are in a position to have any accurate knowledge of the water resources on which they are drawing. They should obviously be able to cope with problems of pollution and, of course, with the problem of wastage by ensuring that mains, pipes and water fittings are in a proper condition.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Would the hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that in Cornwall, and particularly in West Cornwall, rural and urban authorities have been prevented from carrying out very good schemes because the De Lank scheme which the officers of his Ministry tried to foist upon the county council delayed the matter for five, six or more years?
§ Mr. Bevins
That may or may not be the case. I shall be willing to have a talk with the hon. Gentleman about it afterwards.
Moreover, we have to recognise that the demands for water are increasing greatly all the time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) rightly said, as the value of intensified irrigation in farming becomes more widely recognised, the demands for water will be increased. There have been references to the increased demands by industries such as electricity, chemicals and nuclear power, all of which are bound to make vast demands on our water supplies in the future.
All these considerations taken together emphasise the need for regrouping, either by the creation of joint boards or by amalgamations or by take-overs, in such a way as to ensure that all water undertakings possess the resources, both technical and financial, to enable them to do their work adequately.
Perhaps at this point, before I come to the more contentious questions which have been raised in this debate, I should deal with one or two of the detailed points which have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border deplored the fact that capital expenditure in the water industry was only about £20 million a year at present. That is more or less an accurate figure, which I accept. But we have to bear in mind that if we go back to the first five post-war years, the figure during that period was still lower, even if we consider the changes 1284 in the value of money. We should like to see more capital invested in the water industry, and I am perfectly sure that my right hon. Friend is very much alive to that consideration and will bear it constantly in mind.
The hon. Member for Merioneth referred specially to the problems of water in Mid-Wales. My right hon. Friend has visited Mid-Wales; in fact, he has visited all of Wales—north, middle and south-since his appointment as Minister for Welsh Affairs. I am sure that that is a topic in which he will take a continual interest.
I was rather surprised by the contribution made by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle). I am sorry that he is not now in his place. As I understood his opening remarks, he was arguing that it was wrong to import into this debate any contribution of a doctrinaire kind. Then he went on to say that the day of the private water company was over and that the future lay in the hands of the public authorities.
§ Mr. Bevins
That is precisely the point I am coming to—whether it is doctrinaire or not. I should like to point out that we on this side of the House, and certainly my right hon. Friend, have no doctrinaire approach to this subject whatever. We still take the view that there may well be room both for the public authority and the private water company, and, indeed, there is recent support for that view.
In the County of Somerset quite recently, there has been a case of a local authority which has been supplying more than 90 per cent, of the inhabitants with piped water, which has received an offer from a private water company of a most generous character, which the local authority has accepted. The undertaking has been taken over, or at least it is about to be taken over, by this private water company, and the local authority is being paid a lump sum for its assets. It is also being given guarantees that certain works which are necessary in its area will go on. It will also receive concessionary rates for water during the next few years. I give that to the House simply as an example that, after all, the day of the private water 1285 company may not be finished, as was alleged by the hon. Member.
I was also just a little surprised at what was said by the hon. Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) and his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen, because it was said by another hon. Member opposite, before they spoke, that the Tory Party was a hundred years behind the times. The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen said he thought that the time had come when the Government should more actively pursue their water policy, and I understood him to say that my right hon. Friend should have his engineering inspectors visiting different parts of the country to carry out surveys to ascertain the extent and the value of water supplies, and then make recommendations to the areas concerned.
Of course, that is precisely the present policy of Her Majesty's Government, and the right hon. Gentleman knows even better than I do that that policy has been in progress for quite a long time. Therefore, I would say to hon. Members opposite—and I am not imputing this against all hon. Members opposite, but one or two have rather fallen into the trap of deceiving themselves into believing that Her Majesty's Government have no sense of planning for the water industry —that that is manifestly untrue.
The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen also referred to the question of redundancy following upon a policy of regrouping. While it is by no means assured that redundancy will arise, my right hon. Friend is quite prepared to look at that matter sympathetically, and we shall get in touch with the hon. Gentleman, who has a special interest in this matter, at a later date. Might I also say to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. J. Harrison) that this very vexed problem of detergents and their effect on rivers, sewage, and above all on the angling community, is exercising the minds of a committee at the moment, and we are hoping that we may be able to do something effective about it.
Perhaps I may now turn to some of the broader objections which are made on principle to this policy of regrouping, most of which have been expressed from this side of the House. It is said that the principles behind our water policy, which, quite clearly, would relieve some 1286 of the smaller local authorities of this function, are at variance with the principles which lie behind my right hon. Friend's plans for local government reform. It has been argued in certain quarters that further amalgamations should be postponed until the new pattern of local government is known.
That argument presupposes that water supply is a major function of local government at the present time, but, of course, the truth is that more than one-third of the local authorities in England and Wales are not water undertakers at all. We have 83 county boroughs, 29 of which are not water undertakers. We have 316 boroughs, and of those 141 are not water undertakers, and the same is broadly true of the urban district councils. Indeed, it is true to say that about half of our population is supplied not by individual local authorities which they themselves elect, but by joint water boards of local authorities or by water companies. As we know, water supplies have never coincided at any time with the boundaries of local government.
I recognise, as, indeed, did my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, that many of the smaller local authorities are reluctant to lose any of their existing functions, and some of them are, quite naturally perhaps, a little suspicious of the regrouping policy. I should like to emphasise that we have no intention of silencing the voices of these smaller local authorities, because my right hon. Friend is looking mainly to the setting up of joint boards of local authorities, so that the connection of these small local authorities with a joint board may be maintained. Already in the country there are, I believe, 43 joint boards, which on the whole work very efficiently, and which have representation from the various local authorities which they serve.
It is also said that certain of the smaller local authorities are efficient, and therefore might perhaps well be left alone, and that we are indulging in this policy of amalgamation simply for the sake of amalgamation. I should like quite categorically to refute that point of view. There is nothing whatever that is doctrinaire in the policy of my right hon. Friend, and I myself am certainly not wedded to the belief that size and efficiency always go together. Industries vary and conditions vary, but here in the 1287 case of water, my right hon. Friend is convinced that in this particular industry it is difficult to achieve efficient working unless the units of operation are large enough to do the job.
Again, it is argued—and I recognise the force of this argument—that in certain parts of the country some of the urban authorities might suffer financially from amalgamation with their poorer rural neighbours. I think that was an argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) and another hon. Member on this side of the House, and I concede that, to some extent, there may be some substance in this argument. I feel, however, that we ought to bear in mind that many of these urban areas rely to some extent for their prosperity on their rural areas; but when charges in an urban area are likely to rise as a result of amalgamation it is intended by my right hon. Friend that in suitable cases the application of differential charges during the transitional period shall be made.
I should now like to say a brief word on the question of compulsory amalgamation.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
Will the hon. Gentleman please give some encouragement to those very poor rural areas which have been referred to by two of my Welsh colleagues, which are too poor to engage as water undertakers themselves or jointly with other areas, but from whose immediate neighbourhood water is now being taken to supply big corporations in other parts of the country? Have the Government any proposal or plan to meet those really tragic cases?
§ Mr. Bevins
As I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, that is a rather special problem. It certainly is not covered by what I have said so far in this debate. I assure him that it is being looked at most carefully in the Ministry at present and perhaps I may be able, at a later date, to communicate something of interest to those hon. Welsh Members who are interested in this particular problem.
On the subject of compulsory amalgamations, divergent views, very naturally, have been expressed, if not by hon. Gentlemen opposite, certainly by my hon. Friends. My right hon. Friend has made it plain that he prefers to see this process 1288 of regrouping carried through on a voluntary basis by the undertakers themselves, and that, although he has compulsory powers under the 1945 Act, it is his hope that he will need to invoke those powers only when regrouping is desirable and cannot be achieved by any other method. That, I think, would accord with the general sentiment and feeling of the House.
What has been done so far? There have been two draft compulsory Orders since the last circular was issued in September last year, for the setting up of a joint water board in Herefordshire and another in North Lincolnshire. In both cases, public inquiries have been held, and my right hon. Friend will shortly give his decisions. But I would stress that these are exceptional cases, and it is certainly the preference of my right hon. Friend that amalgamations and regrouping should, so far as possible, proceed in a voluntary basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, I think it was, asked whether, in the case of the regrouping which is in progress in his part of the country, possibly on a compulsory basis, the smaller local authorities would be accorded representation on the new boards. I am not in a position to give him an unequivocal answer today, but as a general rule—it is a general rule, which does not apply all the time—representation on these boards is arranged on the basis of the rateable values of the constituents which form the joint boards. Therefore, while there might be representation from this or that individual authority, there might be one representative from two small local authorities.
§ Mr. Mathew
I take it that my hon. Friend has been referring to compulsory powers under Section 9. Section 12 deals with agreements between authorities or suppliers for bulk supply, and I did ask him to let the House know whether that has now been abandoned, because it was indicated in Circular 52/56 that the Minister did not favour that form of agreement. Would my hon. Friend say why that has been abandoned? It seems to be a stronger line than was indicated by the Act.
§ Mr. Bevins
I cannot give my hon. Friend a detailed answer. What is in the last circular still stands. Of course, the substance of it, apart from the particular point my hon. Friend mentions, is 1289 that my right hon. Friend wishes the voluntary regrouping to continue at as great a pace as possible, though, of course, he may, in the last resort, use certain powers under Section 9.
As the House knows, our latest circular was issued as recently as September, 1956. There as a general realisation amongst water undertakers that this is becoming an urgent matter. There has been a considerable number of agreements in principle already between water undertakers and in several hundreds of other cases discussions are proceeding. Although he would like to see the pace of regrouping accelerated still further, my right hon. Friend is not dissatisfied with the progress being made, and we shall certainly keep it under continuous review, in the hope that we shall be able to achieve a satisfactory solution to our problems in the not too distant future.
If local authorities or water undertakers want the advice or help either of the officials of my right hon. Friend's Ministry or of the British Waterworks' Association, advice and help from those two sources, I am quite sure, will be very readily forthcoming, as, indeed, it has been during recent times.
I believe that this debate has been valuable in showing, first, that there is less between the two sides of the House on this subject than is commonly supposed, and, secondly, that, in the broad sense, the House endorses the general water policy of Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I feel, and I hope that it will be generally agreed, that we have had a valuable debate on an important subject. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed:—