HC Deb 04 July 1958 vol 590 cc1727-73

Order for Second Reading read.

11.4 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)

I beg to move That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As right hon. and hon. Members know, during and since the war successive Governments have possessed powers by Defence Regulations to deal with shortages of water due not only to drought, but to other causes. The simple purpose of the Bill is to replace Defence Regulations 50A and 56 by permanent legislation which will enable the appropriate Ministers, both in England and in Scotland, to give water suppliers temporary authority to meet shortages which are due to drought.

It may, I confess, seem a little odd that a Bill to guard against drought should be before the House immediately following the wettest June for about half-a-century, when many people in different parts of the country are worried not so much by drought as by floods. Even so, if we are to revoke these Defence Regulations, which, I think it is generally considered, have lingered on long enough, we must have statutory powers to act against drought.

By and large, our annual rainfall figures show very small variations over the years. I was looking at them the other day for the last seventy years, and if one takes a group of years at a time it is surprising how small the variations are. What they show, however, is that the three-monthly period April-June is almost consistently the driest quarter of the year, with about one-third less rain than the popular quarter of July-September, when most of the English persist in taking their pleasures rather sadly, because over a long span of time it is a fact that those months tend to get wetter and wetter.

Because water shortages, like all other shortages, arise when demand exceeds supply, I ask the House to look at the growth in the demand for water. The industrial demand is almost insatiable. The Report of my right hon. Friend's Department for last year, which was recently published, shows that industries like the new chemicals and plastics industries which have grown up since the war need millions of gallons of water every day for cooling and for processing. In many parts of the country new industries have sprung up where, a generation ago, nobody ever dreamed of industry.

That is clearly the case in some of the new towns, where as recently as ten years ago much of the land was farmland. In most of the urban districts there has been a striking growth of industry, not least in districts like Tees-side, Humberside and Merseyside. All this has stimulated the demand for water. Again, in farming, modern methods make a very heavy demand on public water supplies in the countryside, and irrigation is now coming along as another important factor.

Lastly, there is domestic demand. One is apt to think of this in terms of providing for an increasing population or of taking piped water to country districts where it was not taken before, but, as hon. Members who are interested in the subject well know, it is by no means as simple as that. During the last seven years, for example, the number of houses with fixed baths in England and Wales has risen from just over 8 million to about 10½ million and the proportion of houses throughout the country without baths is declining steadily every year. I remember hearing, when I was a very small boy, an old lady saying to my mother that she had never had a bath in her life because she did not believe in them. Of course, at that age I was almost a disciple of the old lady. That is an indication of how times change.

I said that under Defence Regulations we have been empowered to deal with shortages due not only to drought, but to other causes, whereas the Bill is limited to "a serious deficiency due to an exceptional shortage of rain."

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

Is there any reason why the Bill should be limited to that particular cause of shortage? What about the breakdown of an embankment, the failure of machinery or other causes of shortage of water?

Mr. Bevins

We considered carefully whether this limitation should be put into the Bill at its drafting stage. Shortly, the answer to the hon. Member, which, perhaps, my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland may elaborate when he winds up the debate, is that, certainly in recent cases, the Defence Regulations have only been used to guard against drought and not to guard against the other circumstances to which the hon. Member refers. Moreover, there is power under, I think, Section 12 of the Water Act, 1945, whereby water undertakers can be helped in circumstances other than drought. I believe that, in those circumstances, those powers are used where required.

As I was saying, the Bill is limited to a serious deficiency due to an exceptional shortage of rain. We should be quite clear that under it suppliers will not be able to obtain orders to deal with shortages which have been brought on because they themselves have failed to make adequate provision for rising demand. This in itself should prove an incentive to the water industry to proceed with greater rapidity with the regrouping policy which my right hon. Friend is supporting.

Since 1956, about 30 undertakings in England and Wales have been merged with larger undertakings and the total number is now just below 1,000. Orders which are before my right hon. Friend at different stages, either compulsory or agreed, are expected to reduce the total by another 40 or so in the near future. There are about 25 or 30 groups of undertakers who are understood to be drafting agreed orders and many other groups, covering several hundred undertakers, are engaged in preliminary discussions.

We feel that, on the whole, this progress is not too bad. On the other hand, it is not strikingly good and we hope very much that matters will be speeded up in the near future, largely, we hope, on the basis of voluntary action by the undertakers themselves, although, I am bound to add, that the compulsory orders which my right hon. Friend has himself pro- moted are evidence that he will not hesitate to use compulsory powers where necessary. We certainly have no intention of dragging our feet in this matter of regrouping.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

How many compulsory orders have there been?

Mr. Bevins

Speaking "off the cuff," I think that there have been about four or five compulsory orders in draft. That is to say, they have not all been carried to finality. Altogether, four or five have been put in train by my right hon. Friend.

The more rapidly we can bring about the reorganisation of the industry, the greater the likelihood that supplies of water can be maintained. That is not to say that we should expect the water undertakers to provide and to maintain sources and storage of supplies which might be needed, perhaps, only once every twenty years or so in case of a severe drought. This would mean sinking large sums of money into the construction of new reservoirs, and so on. It would certainly not be economical and might well lead to steep increases in charges for water. This is one of those matters where the best planning in the world cannot protect us from all risk of drought. It would be foolish to go in for over-insurance in a matter of this sort.

One of the worst droughts that the country ever experienced, certainly in this century, occurred in 1934. The Government of that time were severely criticised, inside and outside the House, for having no powers whatever at their disposal to deal with the trouble. In the result, temporary legislation had to be rushed through Parliament in 1934. That was the Water Supplies (Exceptional Shortage Orders) Act of that year, which empowered Ministers to make Orders enabling water undertakers to get more water. That Act expired in 1935.

During and since the war, we have been able to deal with shortages of water by making Orders under the Defence Regulations. For example, Defence Regulation 50A has been used to make Orders allowing undertakers to take water from emergency sources. Regulation 56 has been used to ease restrictions imposed on water undertakers: to give an example, when an impounding reservoir is built, a stream is dammed and water is collected behind the dam. In accordance with their normal powers, water undertakers are then required to despatch certain quantities of water from the reservoir to maintain the flow in the stream itself.

This is what is known in the industry, and in the House, no doubt, as compensation water. While, in these circumstances, it will be much less than the maximum natural flow of water in the stream, it will usually be a good deal more than the minimum natural flow in very dry weather.

In recent years, the regulations have been used only to deal with drought caused by low rainfall. In Great Britain as a whole—England, Wales and Scotland—20 orders were made in 1949, 11 in 1955, 13 in 1956 and 8 in 1957. It is because we have decided to do away with these emergency powers that the need for the Bill arises.

To refer briefly to the main provisions of the Bill, Clause 1 provides the means by which statutory water undertakers can either get more water or keep up their supplies when a shortage is caused or is threatened because of very dry weather. Although in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill we speak of "drought," we have not used this expression in the Bill itself. I understand that in meteorology, "drought" is a term with a very precise meaning. A drought in the technical sense, followed by very heavy rainfall, would not worry us or water undertakers as much as a long period of very low rainfall.

Under Clause 1, water undertakings will be able to seek an Order which would allow them to take water from a source which is not normally used—it may be a lake, a river or a stream—or to take more water than is allowed by their normal powers from an existing source, or, again, to discharge from a reservoir a smaller quantity of water—that is to say, compensation water—than they are normally required to send down the stream.

Before he makes an Order, my right hon. Friend or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would have to satisfy himself that the shortage of water is caused by an exceptional shortage of rain. Before applying for an Order, the undertakers are required to consult with the appropriate river board, which, obviously, is concerned, and it is clearly right that when the appropriate Minister is considering an application, he must take into account the interests of all other bodies which are concerned in the conservation or the use of water.

Clause 2 empowers the appropriate Minister to make Orders authorising the erection of stand-pipes and water tanks in streets and the supply of water by those means. That, of course, is a device for the more economical use of water in times of shortage.

The Orders of any kind will not last for more than six months in the first place, but they may be extended so as to retain them for not more than twelve months in all. Under the Defence Regulations themselves no procedure was laid down for the making of orders. Under the Bill we are laying down a detailed procedure, and what we are providing for is this. In the first place, notice must be served of any proposals either on persons or on bodies who are directly interested, and notice must also be published in local newspapers and, in certain circumstances, in the London Gazette. We are then allowing seven days for objections.

I entirely agree that seven days is not a lengthy period, but I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will appreciate that here we are dealing with an emergency procedure and if we were to make this period much longer there might be an undesirable tendency on the part of water undertakers throughout the country to seek prematurely what I may term precautionary Orders and, in that way, give rise to quite unnecessary disturbance.

If there are objections to a proposal, then an inquiry or a hearing must be held, unless the objections which have been made refer solely to compensation, or, in the case of an application for an extension of time, where the objections were, for all practical purposes, made against the original Order.

Under the Bill, the Minister concerned will have discretion to decide as between a public inquiry and a hearing, but both my right hon. Friends will certainly bear very much in mind the general preference for public inquiries. At the same time, we have to recognise that the need for expedition in matters of this sort may make hearings unavoidable in certain cases. It is also our intention that reasoned decision letters should be issued.

I hope that the House will feel that this procedure which I have very briefly described and which is contained in the Schedules to the Bill is as compatible as it reasonably can be made, both with the emergency nature of the operations with which the Bill is seeking to deal and with the spirit of the Franks Report. What my right hon. Friends have tried to do is to hold the scales between water undertakers and their consumers, on the one hand, and the rights of other persons and bodies who have an interest in water, on the other.

I hope that the House will feel that we have held this balance with fairness and with equity. Certainly, that is what we have tried to do. I commend the Bill to the House.

11.24 a.m.

Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)

Several eyebrows were raised when hon. Members heard that I was to make my maiden speech in this Chamber on a Friday. Perhaps I can best explain that decision by saying that I understand that it is the custom for maiden speeches to be not too controversial, and one of my main reasons for seeking the opportunity to speak on this Bill was that I should not feel capable, when talking in this House for the first time, of making a non-controversial speech on a controversial subject.

It gives me very great pleasure, however, to make a non-controversial speech on this Bill, which is not controversial in the ordinary sense of the term and which I generally approve, except that I should like to see one or two additional matters put into it.

The Parliamentary Secretary, in his expert description of the effects of the Bill, referred to the tremendous growth there has been in the industrial and domestic demand for water since the end of the war. So far as the industrial demand goes, I must admit that that does not in any way affect my own constituency of Islington, North, where we have no large factories or industrial concerns.

In spite of the fact that there has been a tremendous increase in the number of bathrooms and other amenities during the last ten years, which has added to the demand for water, I must say that though this is due, in the main, to the new house building programme under which local authorities, a few weeks ago, completed their 2-millionth new permanent house since the war, it does not, unfortunately, apply to my own constituency, where most of the buildings do not compare with the modern ones in their amenities.

Accordingly, the problem of waste of water does not apply there in the same degree. When one has to carry water in a bucket from a tap at street level up two flights of stairs one does not feel much inclination to waste any of it once one has got it up there.

I am very pleased to know that the special sub-committees of the Central Water Advisory Committee, which was set up some time ago to consider the question of the demand for water, will, apparently, be reporting soon. It is important, in discussing this Bill and in looking at the whole problem of the water supply industry, that we should have a reasonable knowledge of what the demand is expected to be.

The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of the number of water undertakings that there are and I welcome the action the Minister took in the circular last year to secure amalgamations of those water undertakings. I do not myself believe that nationalisation, as such, of water supplies will of itself improve the position, but I am a great believer in public ownership of water supplies, and I feel that the municipalisation and rationalisation of these undertakings are preferable to nationalisation in the normally accepted sense. My main question on this is: how long will it take for this job to be done?

I should like to refer to the supply of water in the Greater London area. I was at one time for about six years an employee of the Metropolitan Water Board, as a rate collector. In that capacity I often initiated action which led to a temporary shortage of water in certain properties for which the water rate had not been paid, and I understand that the Bill will not enable them to obtain any relief.

A Departmental Committee on Greater London was set up in September, 1946, and reported in 1948. The Committee was unable, unfortunately, to come to an agreed solution. There were two Reports, one by the chairman and one other member advocating a single water board for the Greater London area from Welwyn in the north to Sevenoaks in the south and from Wycombe in the west to Romford in the East. The other report suggested four separate water boards covering approximately the same area.

At that time, in 1948, the plan was supported by the London County Council, the Middlesex County Council, and the Metropolitan Water Board, but now we are in 1958, and, so far, there have not been any amalgamations of the undertakings in the Greater London area, which I consider to be absolutely essential in getting a co-ordinated water supply for the area. I understand that the Metropolitan Water Board is at present considering absorbing the. Richmond and Croydon undertakings, but that is a very small matter compared with the problem of the whole area.

I was pleased to hear from the hon. Gentleman that some consideration is being given to using the compulsory powers available to secure amalgamation under the Water Act, 1945. I am convinced that with all the vested interests there are in small water undertakings the only way the Minister will secure large-scale amalgamations will be by using those powers which are available to him. I was therefore very pleased to hear that he is in the process of using some of them.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Bill allows the Minister, in certain circumstances, to issue Orders allowing statutory undertakers to take supplies from other sources or to reduce compensation water on occasions of drought. That, of course, can be done under the Defence Regulations now, but, as the hon. Gentleman said, the Defence Regulations are rather wider than the provisions made in the Bill, and I should like the House to consider for a moment what might happen.

The Minister referred to Section 12 of the Water Act, 1945, and the action which could be taken there, but, as I understand, one of the main reasons for the Bill is that the action which can be taken under Section 12 of the Act of 1945 may be rather slow and prolonged, and one of the main objects of this Bill is accelerated procedure, to be able to cope more quickly with circumstances as they arise. I should have thought that a more accelerated procedure could well be necessary in the case of other shortages as well.

The Defence Regulations have been used for other things, and I understand that seven of them are still in force, or were in force up to the end of 1957, according to the Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for that year. These enable water undertakers to make temporary arrangements for extracting water from sources not normally available to them until permanent works are completed.

It might well be that there is a need for a similar provision to be put in this Bill, enabling the Minister to make similar Orders to those at present in force for temporary expedients to be adopted while more permanent works are undertaken. I should have thought that, since several of these Orders are still in force, that sort of provision would be worth while putting in the Bill.

There are other ways in which these powers may be needed in certain areas. A small water undertaking which, because of the fracture of a main sewer, may find wells put out of action for a temporary period, would be able to obtain relief under the Defence Regulations by an Order enabling it to take a supply from another source, and I think that it is worth while making provision in the Bill for that kind of arrangement. We also know that accidents do happen, and in cases where radioactive material is concerned there is always the possibility of water contamination. We can never be absolutely certain that such accidents will not occur. I would have thought it much better for the Minister to have powers under the Bill to take similar sort of action to that which he can at present take under the Defence Regulations. I hope that, as the Bill goes through, we may be able to amend these provisions so that the Minister is able to take the same kind of action under the Bill as he has been able to take in the past under the Defence Regulations.

Personally, I welcome the Bill. It goes one stage further towards something which the Government have promised to do; that is, to "set the people free" from Defence Regulations. We have now reached a point where they are doing this by removing temporary methods and putting the powers into permanent legislation.

11.33 a.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I am sure that all hon. Members in the House today will have listened with very great interest to the interesting and informative speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds). It is always an ordeal to make a speech at any time in this House, and particularly a maiden speech, whether it is on an ordinary working day or on a Friday. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, in speaking on a subject on which he clearly has wide knowledge and experience, will have added to our debate and to the interest taken in this Bill to a very large extent. I am sure that everybody on both sides of the House will look forward to hearing the hon. Member speaking to us again on any subject he chooses, whether controversial or not, and adding to the dignity and the usefulness of our debates in the way which he has shown in his speech today.

The general provisions of this Bill certainly have my approval and support, but there are one or two matters on which I should like assistance. It might seem that, in view of the type of weather which we are having today, which we have had for weeks and months past and look like having for many weeks and months in the future, this Bill was entirely unnecessary, but at some time in the future the provisions of this Bill, which deals with periods when we have exceptional shortages of rain, will, in fact, apply.

Unfortunately, water undertakers are not the only people who use water, and, in dealing with statutory water undertakers, I should like to ask the Minister to assist the House by defining what is meant by that description. One knows that in the ordinary case it means the supply of domestic water or water for industrial purposes, but I should like to ask, for example, whether the hydroelectric boards are included. We may have to put up with difficulties and shortages of water in the rivers from which domestic and industrial purposes may be supplied, but it seems undesirable that hydro-electric boards should be given the same privileges in not keeping their agreements for supplying compensation water where they have agreed to do so. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give us an answer to that question.

It is most regrettable that our water supplies are in such a large degree affected by pollution. This is a problem which I suggest is entirely relevant and in order on this Bill, because a shortage of water affects the question of pollution, and not only the extraction of water. The whole problem of pollution is a very difficult one, and perhaps I, as a keen fisherman, should declare an interest. I certainly think that it is disgraceful to see how many of the rivers are being made foul by being polluted by effluents from sewage works and industrial works. One stands on the Terrace of this House and looks into the Thames, where one can see complete justification for the remarks I have just made. This is a big city and there are very big industrial works on the river banks, so perhaps the difficulty of pollution cannot be entirely overcome, but I believe it could be considerably reduced, even the pollution of the River Thames in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster.

This pollution is going on up and down the country, and if there should be a shortage of rain, and one of these orders is made authorising a greater degree of extraction, then any effluent, of whatever kind, which will still further reduce the supply of water, will make for a higher degree of pollution in the water which remains. It will affect the fishermen, it will increase the risk and danger to health as the water goes further down the river. I ask the Minister whether he has had in mind the pollution of the rivers in connection with the operation of this Bill when it becomes an Act because of these orders further reducing the supply of water in the rivers.

There is another point, which arises on Clause 1 (1, a) which provides that the Minister may make an order— authorising the undertakers, subject to any specified conditions or restrictions, to take water from any specified source". What does that mean? I know he has in mind that, where there is some power under an Act or by Regulations limiting the amount of water to be taken from a river, it can be suspended in cases of exceptional shortage of rain, but I should like to know if that includes giving the power over any private premises. For example, would it permit taking water from a pond or lake, or some private source, such as a bore hole or artesian well belonging to some private undertaking and providing for its own industrial purposes, because the wording of the subsection at present would seem to be wide enough for that?

The words of the Bill at present would be wide enough to allow water to be taken from any unspecified source. There is no limit. A large factory might have its own artesian well supplying its premises, but a local board, however small, might be authorised to lay pipes and take away that water supply and thereby do a great injustice to an industrial enterprise.

Clause 1 (1) provides that: Before any statutory water undertakers make an application under this section they shall consult with any river board upon whom notice of the application will be required to be served by the First Schedule to this Act. Many other bodies will be interested in the making of an application for an order. It might be that a river board was not a very up-to-date or active body and there would be people concerned with the matter who ought to be consulted beforehand.

I suggest that there is a precedent for this in other Acts and that long before any question of an order crops up a person or a company or factory should have the right to register with the statutory undertaking and to say, "If you are going to make one of these orders in future I give notice that I shall want full notice of what you intend to do so that I may consider the matter and make proper objections." It would be imposing an impossible burden to require that every interested person should be consulted, but by advertisement or notice published in the local papers the undertaking could say, "We are the statutory undertakers and we may at some time require power to make orders under the Act. Anyone interested who registers with us beforehand can make objection before the order is made." That is all that I would suggest. Those who did not register would not be able to object. Perhaps it would be agreed that that is not an unreasonable suggestion. It may involve altering Clause 1 and also the first part of the First Schedule.

The Parliamentary Secretary dealt with the question of time for objections. Seven days is a very short period. I appreciate that orders may have to be made in a hurry but, after all, water does not disappear overnight, and this should not be as rushed a procedure as all that. I am not asking for twenty-eight days, as is provided for under the Town and Country Planning Act, but I ask the Minister to make the period a little longer, perhaps fourteen days. That would avoid many complaints. These matters take several days. They involve drafting notices and things of that kind which cannot be done in seven days.

Apart from the points that I have raised, I give the Bill my full support as an effort to deal with the increasing problem of the abstraction of water from the rivers. There is a very limited amount of water in this country and there is an increasing demand the whole time. The proper abstraotion of these waters by many of those interested is a matter of great and increasing importance, and it is not sufficiently realised that abstraction often leads to increased pollution. I ask the Minister to keep a watchful eye on fair distribution and the avoidance of pollution. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Islington, North that rationalisation is the answer. Certainly nationalisation does not answer the problem. Indeed, it may make it worse.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)

As the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, the purposebf the Bill is to make an end to another series of Defence Regulations. I think that we all welcome a continuing process of this kind. It gives us a feeling that we can turn our backs once and for all on the dreadful days of World War II when Defence Regulations were necessary, but we must not forget that, whilst the Bill may give the impression that such temporary measures are being quickly removed, in reality what the Bill does is to make those regulations permanent.

Personally, I have no quarrel at all in this instance with the fact that such temporary measures are now to become permanent in relation to water supply and distribution, because there is still an emergency and there will be for many years to come. My complaint is that the Bill does not go far enough. I had expected that by this late hour we should have received from the Government a Bill which would have proceeded not merely one step but a mile, that is, 1,760 steps, but what we have is something very meagre indeed. There has been for years a growing realisation in the United Kingdom that our water resources are not exploited to the degree necessary to meet present, quite apart from future, requirements.

I had earnestly hoped that with all the committees of inquiry and sub-committees which have been sitting, the Government by now would have produced something to enable Parliament to rationalise the highly chaotic supply system, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) has said, and place our future resources on a more profitable basis. By "profitable," I mean profitable to the nation or the United Kingdom at large. But what we have here is a very paltry Measure whose sole purpose is to make rigid measures which were originally intended to be temporary.

I hope that I shall not be accused by my hon. Friends of patting the Government on the back, but I must say that if there are two Ministers on the Government benches who have the capacity to face this problem they are the Minister of Housing and Local Government and his Parliamentary Secretary. By introducing the two major Measures of this Session, dealing with local government and rents, they have shown that they can face a subject of complexity and scope with great courage. I am disappointed, therefore, in finding that a Bill has come from them which falls far below their usual standard. On this occasion, the Government have missed a great opportunity. I want to state briefly why I think that in presenting the Bill in such a meagre form the Government have neglected their responsibilities to the nation as a whole.

I shall confine my remarks, for obvious reasons, to my own native country which. I might say, in case it is not already known, is of course Wales. It is a paradox, and if it were not a serious subject I would say that it is a farce, that whereas my native country has the finest sources of water in the United Kingdom and supplies millions of gallons of water a day to great towns in England, it has large areas in which 50 per cent. of the population are still without piped water supplies. In one large area, only 19 per cent. of the population has a piped water supply, and much of that is supplied by stand-pipe methods. I know of another large area where only 26 per cent. of the population have a piped water supply. Could we not describe that as an indictment of our water supply system?

I am sorry that the Minister of Housing and Local Government is not present, because this is particularly a Welsh matter and he is also Minister for Welsh Affairs. Five years ago the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire presented its second Memorandum. That Memorandum stressed the serious position at that time, and I will quote paragraph 98 on page 23, as follows: It is hardly necessary to emphasize the importance of this service in relation to the problems under consideration. The effect on housing progress of the absence of suitable water schemes in many parts of the Survey Area has already been referred to, and there can be no doubt that in the improvement at living conditions and of the rural economy at large the provision of piped supplies of water of adequate quantity and quality is an essential factor. The Council may have thought that at that time it was "hardly necessary," and I say that with respect to them, because they went on to describe further how serious was the position. If, therefore, after five years this Bill is the best effort the Government can present, it is extremely necessary, for Wales particularly, to stress time and time again the serious plight in which many of my countrymen in the rural areas find themselves. I can say without exaggeration that as regards piped water supplies they might just as well be in a desert.

In a long written reply to a Question on 7th February, 1957, the Minister of Housing and Local Government referred to the Advisory Water Committee for Wales. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he considered that as a preliminary step it was desirable to set in train a technical appraisal of the water resources of Wales, and that he was arranging for his engineers to begin such an investigation at once. He added that the investigation would be addressed particularly to river flows, etc. I would like to know when we are to have that report. In view of the fact that five years ago the Second Memorandum showed the seriousness of the position in the rural parts of Wales at that time, it is high time we had the report. Incidentally, I would like to have an explanation of how the Rural Development Panel arrived at its fourth recommendation, which was: 'Finally, the Panel consider that the establishment of a Water Board for Wales in present circumstances is not a practicable proposition and would not, in any event, affect the position under which one water undertaker can seek supplies in another's area'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1957; Vol. 564, c. 88–9.] That to me is a very surprising conclusion, and I would like to know along what road the Panel travelled in order to arrive at such a surprising destination. I noticed the Minister's very bald comment on that in the reply to which I have referred, for he stated "The Panel's fourth recommendation is noted." I wonder whether I can derive any satisfaction from that comment by the Minister on a possible water board for Wales.

We must face the fact that we shall never get an end to the present chaotic position, and that we shall never get a real solution to the problem of a proper water supply—which I stress as distinct from distribution—until we have put an end to the hundreds of boards and authorities in the United Kingdom. The Parliamentary Secretary pointed out that there are 1,000 boards and authorities who are at present quarrelling, dissenting and arguing, whilst the country faces year after year in any lengthy period of dry weather a serious shortage of water. We shall not get a solution of this problem unless we place the responsibility for the supply system upon the nation and the Government.

As regards distribution, I say unequivocally that the local authorities are the best people to carry out that task, and I want to mention one other thing. I do not wish to trespass beyond the bounds of order, but, Sir, since I tried to catch your eye at the time, I wish to state that I fully supported my colleagues on this side of the House, and indeed many hon. Gentlemen opposite, to their credit, who supported us in our opposition to the Liverpool Tryweryn scheme.

Whilst we have small authorities with very limited resources, unable themselves to finance adequate water supplies, we shall have continually the position of the large predatory authorities themselves stepping in and, with Private Bills, hosts of technical engineers, hordes of lawyers and, much more important, large financial resources, taking land, building reservoirs and selling supplies at a profit. In one instance, they estimated having supplies of 70 million gallons a day for their own use when their present shortfall in dry weather is a mere 4 million gallons a day. Is that not a ridiculous position for the country to be in? Of course, in the circumstances I am referring to, in nearby areas there are poor authorities who are not able to provide piped water supplies to their own people and, of course, piped water supplies bring with them proper sanitary conditions. I warn the Government that if they do not face this position we shall have many more Tryweryns, and they certainly will not be confined to Wales.

I will not give any statistics, but the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out forcibly one factor which refers to industrial requirements. The figures I have here estimate that by 1970 water undertakings will be expected to supply twice the amount of water which they had to supply in 1938 and this, of course, is largely due to industrial requirements.

This leads me to my final point, the aspect of industrial development as regards my own country. It is known that there is urgent need for new industry in the rural areas of Wales, Mid and North-West in particular. It is significant that where this new industry is needed, mostly to alleviate unemployment and rapid depopulation, the water supplies are totally inadequate. I refer to Anglesey, Montgomery, Merioneth and so on. Indeed, my colleagues from Anglesey, Caernarvon and Merioneth, and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), have stressed time and time again this need. Industry cannot, of course, carry on without adequate water. The paradox is that the water is there, and it is either not being conserved or, where it is being conserved, it is being distributed hundreds of miles away to far more prosperous areas. How can we go on like this year in and year out? A national policy is essential. What is the use of exhortations from the Minister of Housing and Local Government to these boards which are almost heterogeneous when they should be as one?

Furthermore, the Minister must remember that these continuous injunctions from him are causing great friction. I think he is aware of this. Much argument is delaying work of a more fruitful nature, and I have often wondered during this last year or so how many schemes have either been scrapped or shelved because the local boards and undertakings have realised that in the near future they may either be scrapped or forced to join with others. The present position is very unhealthy.

I welcome this Bill despite my criticism of the Government's lack of policy, and I hope that the House will pass it quickly. I am certain that on this side of the House we shall assist the Government to do so. However, I welcome the Bill only on the understanding that it is the precursor of a major Measure, and I hope that in the next Session the Government will face their responsibilities and produce one. As far as I am concerned, in that major Measure there would be two basic principles. First, in reference to supply, we should have a national responsibility under two water boards, one for England and one for Wales, despite the recommendation of the Rural Development Panel. As regards distribution, the second principle, the responsibility should be with the local authorities and their specific areas.

It is only on this understanding that I, personally, can be satisfied that the desperate needs of my country will have any reasonable hope of being successfully met. It is only then that we can find an end to the stupid position in which thousands of my countrymen are still without proper water supplies and sanitation. I look forward to the day when a Minister for Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs will produce a Bill which will meet the problems which now confront us.

12 noon.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

I rise to support the Bill, but perhaps I might, first, again congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) upon his excellent maiden speech. He spoke with authority and was obviously an expert on the subject; and he spoke for his constituents. I sometimes think that if we spoke only on subjects on which we are experts, and of which we have real knowledge and in which our constituents have a real interest, there would be far fewer speeches in the House.

But I would beg the hon. Member to do one thing for the sake of the HANSARD and newspaper reporters. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) will have to be looking to his laurels as the fastest speaker in the House. I have never heard words pour from an hon. Member so well and so fluently. I am sure that if the hon. Member for Islington, North and the hon. Member for Oldham, West follow one another the HANSARD reporters will be put to a severe test. However, I congratulate the hon. Member most sincerely upon an excellent maiden speech.

I have a particular constituency interest in the Bill. On the South Humber bank from Immingham to Grimsby, in the Grimsby Rural District Council area, over the last fifteen years there has grown up a great new industrial belt. These modern plants are mostly chemical concerns each of which uses millions of gallons of water every day. The Minister said in his speech that there were new industrial developments coming into what were previously rural areas, and that is just the case in my constituency.

There are three conflicting interests arising. The farmers are beginning to wonder whether their supplies are not being endangered, the domestic users are wondering whether their supplies will be safeguarded, and those who were previously in the industrial area are beginning to wonder whether the newcomers will not endanger the supplies to those who have been established there for many years. I wish to put this matter to the Minister for consideration.

Some time ago I heard a water engineer in Leicester talk to the local chamber of commerce. He said that he considered that water would soon be the rarest and most valuable natural mineral that we have in the country and that we must conserve it and that if we are not very careful we shall find ourselves in a very difficult position.

The Minister said that the Bill tries to hold fairly the balance between the water undertakings and their consumers and other interests. In the Grimsby-Immingham area there is a firm which put down its own bore at the beginning of the century, long before the rest of the industrial development there was thought of. As, over the last fifteen years, great new factories have come into the area, those who were already there are beginning to fear—I will not put it higher than that—that the extra demand on the natural water supply will cause more water to come in from the Humber which will contain dangerous degrees of salt. I think it fair to say that the people who were there earlier ought to have their interests safeguarded before other big users are allowed to come in and tap what may be regarded in some degree as a natural preserve of the original people.

Will my hon. Friend consult the President of the Board of Trade, so that before other industries are brought into such an area it is made sure that water supplies are adequate and that the newcomers will not take from the older established companies supplies which they are legitimately entitled to expect for themselves? It is important that in the organisation of industrial belts the Board of Trade should take into very careful consideration the water requirements of the companies already established before attracting new people who may be cutting into limited available resources.

The hon. Member for Islington, North said that in his constituency there were many houses where people had to carry their water up two flights of stairs and that those people were not likely to waste water. We all hope that before long that state of affairs will be abolished throughout the country, for it is a disgrace to us. Every house, no matter how poor the people inside it, ought to have an adequate water supply. If the ideal that we should all like to see accomplished is to come about, there will be another enormously increased demand on our water supplies. It has seemed to me, as I have talked to my constituents on this issue, that the domestic users must have the first call on supplies.

I now want to make a plea on behalf of the farmers. They feel very touchy on this subject. In my part of the country they see huge new plants coming along each taking many millions of gallons every day, and they fear that this may endanger their natural water supplies. It is not an adequate reply to them to say that the Water Board for the North Lincolnshire area has very generously tried to meet the farmers by giving them a temporary surface supply, for the farmer wants to feel that his cattle will always have an adequate natural water supply.

I ask my hon. Friend to ensure that in this tug-of-war for what will be a diminishing supply of a very valuable raw material the farmer is also satisfied, and his fears are allayed, by his being assured that the bigger people are not coming in to rob him of something which he and his forebears have enjoyed for hundreds of years. We are telling the farmer that more stock is required; consequently, the farmer must have, even in times of drought, an adequate water supply for his cattle and sheep.

I urge my hon. Friend to bear these things in mind and ensure that all the interests are fairly dealt with. If he will promise to do that, I am certain that he will be doing all our interests a great service, and I shall be very pleased to support the Bill.

12.9 p.m.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), particularly after what he has said about the need for observing the requirements of agriculture when the Bill becomes an Act, as I hope it will. I rise to support the Bill, but I want to make some reservations and put to the Minister some points which, I think, are worthy of his consideration.

There is a growing tendency among farmers in East Anglia—and I am one of them—to develop irrigation. In one of the Government's publications on the need for irrigation, it is clearly shown that in East Anglia—and it would not be stretching the Ancient Kingdom too far to include Louth in that area—irrigation is needed at some time of the year seven years out of nine. These are periods of drought which have to be overcome if there is to be efficient agricultural production.

In the last few years, water undertakings have become very different in character from what they were, and there have been great developments in water supply and water provision. In the part of North Essex in which I live, there has been an increasing demand in the last three or four years for the water supply to be made available to everybody, and farmers especially have wanted to obtain it, among other reasons, for irrigation. This has caused some argument and, as I am personally involved in a row with the local water authority, it woud be wrong for me to regard this issue as anything but sub judice, and as the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend is holding a hearing into my complaint, it would be even more impertinent of me to press that matter too far.

However, there is a growing demand for irrigation as a necessary additional technique to an expansion of agricultural production, which means that the Minister should be very careful, when considering applications from local water authorities, to take into consideration the needs of agriculture.

A water undertaking may say that a drought is threatened, but a drought is always being threatened, and a local undertaking which is not paying proper attention to the needs of agriculture may start off with that view at the beginning of the spring, and thus prevent farmers having that water which is surplus to the requirements of domestic consumers. I do not say that the farmers' needs should come before those of domestic consumers, but they should be able to have water which is surplus to the statutory responsibility of the water authority to look after domestic consumers first. Water undertakings should not restrict supplies by saying that there may be a drought, thus entirely overlooking the fact that a farmer wants water not in the drought, but long before the drought comes.

That is especially true in East Anglia, where water in the early spring will last on the heavy clay practically throughout the year. At present there is too much water on the heavy clay, and we have a comparatively grim outlook. I hope that when considering claims of a water undertaking that it is threatened by a serious deficiency, the right hon. Gentleman will see that the needs of agriculture are borne in mind.

The Bill gives an opportunity for the Minister seriously to consider the constitution of some water undertakings. In joining with other hon. Members who have complimented my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) on his speech, I must say that I was at variance with him on one, and only one, issue. He preferred the municipalisation of the water supply to the nationalisation. I am not sure that that is the better way, to judge from my experience and the experience of others.

Running a municipal water undertaking is not just running the one public bath in a rural town. It is a complicated and difficult job which calls for a great deal of engineering skill, knowledge, and common sense. I wonder whether rural district councils come up to the requirements of undertakings of this kind. I would much rather that a water undertaking was in the hands of an engineer specifically appointed for the purpose, rather than in the hands of a chairman of a water, health and garbage disposal committee of a rural district council, who is doing his best but who is standing on tiptoe to try to hold up a job which is far too big for him.

Mr. Osborne

In my own area, which is a rural district council of the sort of which the hon. Member is speaking, the committee is composed of members from three different areas, but with a qualified engineer to guide them. I think that that arrangement is fairly common. The work is done extremely well.

Sir L. Plummer

I wish that the engineer had more power in his guidance and that he was not constantly, or even occasionally, subjected to the kind of political pressure which ought not to be put on an engineer. I would prefer the engineer to be the general manager of a water undertaking, or its managing director, with sufficient power to be able to run it, as his colleague in the town is running a branch of the Eastern Electricity Board, or the South-Western Electricity Board, or whatever it is.

It is because the development of rural water supplies has come so rapidly since the war that in the areas covered by a water authority we have not been able to build up the necessary technical ability and skill. What we require is nationalisation; with a national water grid run by people competent to undertake the responsibility of seeing that the available water in the country is fairly distributed and fairly shared.

The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) asked from where an authority was to get water, and he asked about boreholes put down by firms and by private individuals. In East Anglia, there are practically no other sources of water in time of drought—the rivers are dry, the creeks are dry, and there is no water in the brooks. The only alternative source of water supply is that owned by private individuals.

If the nation needs it, I have no objection to water being taken from the private individual for use in the interests of the nation, but we ought to understand that we are saying that there are circumstances—contained in the Bill as presented to us—in which a local undertaking could say that it will take from Mr. X's river or Mr. X's reservoir or from his borehole that water which it wants. That runs contrary to the spirit of the debate which we had yesterday. If the nation needs water and somebody has it and somebody else has not, I have no hesitation in saying that the somebody who has it should be made to give it up, but I remind the House that yesterday we had a discussion running in the opposite direction.

If it is the intention of the Government to give these powers to local authorities to enter other people's property and take the water, let them make that clear. If that is the intention of the Government, I beg them, before deciding to take such powers to investigate the capacity of the water undertakings and, in particular, the local authorities to fulfil such a task with fairness and efficiency.

12.19 p.m.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

In so far as the increasing demand for water at this time is a sign of increased prosperity and an increase in the standard of living—and we have had examples of that today in references to better plumbing and the demand of factories for more water and, by no means least, the greater activity in agriculture—I dare say that the Bill is to be welcomed.

However, the truth of the matter is that we are a nation not of water users, but of water wasters. We turn on the tap without thinking about where the water comes from, or how much we are using. Bearing in mind the increased demand for water, it is not surprising that many hon. Members have expressed anxiety about the future of our water supplies.

It was good to heat from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that grouping is proceeding apace. I very much hope that the criterion on which this grouping takes place in future will be a voluntary basis rather than a compulsory basis. It may well be right that the Minister should have compulsory powers in reserve, but I feel, and I am sure that many of my hon. Friends agree, that it is very much better, however difficult it may be, to get voluntary agreement rather than to use compulsory powers which should be used only in the last resort.

Mr. Bevins indicated assent.

Mr. du Cann

I see that my hon. Friend indicates his assent to that view. I am certain that that is the point of view of us all. It may seem a paradox that we should ever be short of water in England, and it is especially a paradox that there should be a shortage of water in Wales, of all places, where I believe the rainfall is slightly higher than it is in East Anglia, but something must be done about water supplies in the comparatively near future, because there is an increasing demand and the problem will become increasingly difficult.

I congratulate the Government upon introducing the Bill. It is not a large one, but it is none the less important, because it is a step in the dismantling of wartime controls and Defence Regulations. It must be right, as a matter of principle, that any powers which the Government need should be the matter of specific legislation rather than obtained under the blanket authority that has existed hitherto. That may be necessary, right and desirable in time of war, but in my view it is utterly wrong in peacetime.

I want to refer to a few specific questions involving matters of principle and detail, and I shall ask my hon. Friend certain questions. First, there is the matter of pollution, which has already been referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty). I entirely agree with him that the state of many of our rivers and canals is a disgrace because of the effluent poured into them. This is a matter which we have debated from time to time and which is engaging the attention of the Government. On the other hand, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to bear in mind the fact that if water is taken from a river its level is lowered, and in time of drought, when the level of the river is low in any case, it will be still further reduced.

When effluent is put into a river, canal or other watercourse, it is got rid of by being diluted, and if there is less water than usual dilution becomes increasingly difficult. It may be that certain undertakings whose arrangements are normally quite adequate to ensure that there is no pollution will find that they are polluting rivers or creeks because they are putting their effluent into them at a time when the river is already low and has been artificially lowered still further. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would say a word on that subject, because it is plain that those people who are accustomed to putting their effluent into rivers perfectly properly will be specially vulnerable on these occasions, and I would think that it would be appropriate to take the view that there should be no prosecutions for pollution at times when orders have been made for the taking of water from these sources.

Next, I want to refer to the question of private industrial boreholes, which was also referred to by my hon. and learned Friend. As the Parliamentary Secretary will know, some firms, organisations and persons depend entirely upon private boreholes for their water supplies. I do not dissent in any way from the view put forward by the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) on the question of the needs of the community, but I always think that when it is a question of balancing the needs of the community as a whole with those of the individual, the Government must lean over backwards to see that the rights of the individual are fully protected. If it is the Government's intention to use private industrial boreholes, I would ask my hon. Friend whether they should not be entirely exempt from the provisions of the Bill, or whether there should not be a provision that water should not be taken from them where it will have a deleterious effect upon the owners of these boreholes. If it must be done, it must be done—as the hon. Member for Deptford said—in which case there should be adequate compensation. If that compensation is provided there can be no objection.

I now turn to the question of notice. The First Schedule states very clearly that notice regarding: Orders concerning the taking of water from a source or the discharge of compensation water must be served on Every local authority … Any navigation authority … Every river board". In passing, I would say that I do not agree with one suggestion which was made earlier, which seemed to be a general inference that river boards are not efficient. I think that they are highly efficient as a general rule, although I appreciate that they sometimes have difficult matters to deal with. But there are certain omissions from the list of people to be notified. If water is taken from a stream or river, I think that notice should be given to the riparian owners—whether they be farmers, people with factories, or private people—or their assosiations, rather than given only to the three authorities indicated. Surely notice should be given to all those people whose interests are affected.

Mr. Doughty

My remarks were intended to refer to some river boards. While many are highly efficient, some are perhaps not quite so efficient. I did not intend to make any attack upon river boards in general. My criticisms were directed at some river boards.

Mr. du Cann

I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. and learned Friend. I certainly accept his explanation. I have no doubt that, like me, he has a high admiration for the activities of many river boards. My point is that we should endeavour to give the maximum amount of notice to the maximum number of people who will be affected by anything done under the Bill.

The question is how to get over the problem. We can either notify everybody—which I believe would be wrong—or adopt the suggestion made by my hon. and learned Friend, of following the system which was put into very satisfactory effect in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, under which a register of persons who wished to be informed about matters involved in legislation is kept, and those people are given notice. Provisions to that end should be inserted in the Bill, or made the subject of a Ministry circular. I do not think it matters which course is adopted, provided that we aim to give the maximum amount of notice to the maximum number of people whose interests will be affected.

Still on the subject of notice, I turn to the question of publicity. Schedule 1 says, in paragraph 1 (2, c): where the application is for an order concerning the taking of water from a source or the discharge of compensation water. notice must be given in one or more local newspapers circulating within the area of every local authority within whose area the source or the site at which compensation water is to be discharged is situated. That is all very well, but it does not go far enough. If we take water from the head of a river it is plain that people in that area will be affected, but so will those in areas lower down the river. I suggest that the Government might consider whether it would not be appropriate to publish notices in newspapers in the vicinity of any watercourse affected by an order of this kind.

Paragraph 4 of the Schedule states that: A notice under this paragraph … shall specify a place within the limits of supply of the applicants where a copy of any relevant map or plan may be inspected … There again, the same kind of reasoning applies as in the question of publicity in local newspapers. Rather than keeping the map in one place only, which may be very far from the residences of all the persons affected, it would be better to provide maps in other places. I suggest that the Government might consider it right to follow the principle laid down in paragraph 1 (2, c) and see that maps are made available for inspection in the offices of local authorities along the length of the watercourse concerned. That would be a simple matter; it would not involve very much work or trouble, and it would mean that maps were readily available for inspection without undue difficulty or trouble on the part of the interests concerned.

I want to discuss the words "first publication." It may be that we can go into this point in greater detail in Com- mittee, but I suggest that seven days is a very short time. I appreciate that emergency provisions are concerned here, and we do not want to stand too fast upon a principle and say that it is essential that maximum notice shall be given and that the notice shall be not less than 28 days. That would be absurd.

On the other hand, I would ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the following point. If the notice appears first in the London Gazette no one could pretend that that is a newspaper ordinarily read by many people. Local newspapers are published rarely, sometimes only once a week, and it might be that the first publication may appear in the London Gazette and then not until five days later might a further notice be published in a local newspaper, so that the effective notice which people interested in the matter would receive would be only two days.

That cannot be the Minister's intention, and I would be most grateful if he could do something about the matter. Perhaps on the Committee stage he might consider dealing with the words: from the date of first publication of the notice". I now come to the Second Schedule which deals with compensation, on which there are two points I wish to make. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could say a word about the basis of compensation. I ask this particularly because, if we examine the Opencast Coal Bill, which was a Bill of the same genesis as the one we are discussing, because the reasons for both are the same, we find that that Bill set out the basis of compensation in very great detail. This Bill says nothing about it at all. It would be of great interest if my hon. Friend could say a word on the subject.

Paragraph 2 of the Second Schedule states that an arbitrator may be appointed. I wonder if my hon. Friend would consider whether it would not be a better system if the Land Tribunal did the work. It is an experienced body, it would be quick and inexpensive, and, in my view, would probably be more effective than an arbitrator. I should be interested to hear my hon. Friend's view on that matter.

I do not propose to go into the Bill in any more detail because we can discuss many of these matters and, indeed, a number of others on the Committee stage. I would again like to congratulate the Government on bringing the Bill forward. It is an extremely useful Measure, and I hope that it will have a successful passage through Parliament.

12.33 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

Although the ambit of this Bill is small, it deals with a subject which is of vital concern. It has already been emphasised that any expansion of production or rise in the standard of living must postulate an increased consumption of water.

As the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) said in his attractive and fast flowing maiden speech, the domestic consumption of water rises quite extraordinarily. I had a graphic practical experience of that in my own home after the war. I started with a hand pump and had to transport water in a bucket during the first twelve months. The consumption of water per capita was then very small. I then had a small petrol motor pump which pumped water into a 250-gallon tank which required filling every so often. Someone had to start the engine, and, therefore, the family exercised some due economy. Now with an electric pump and an automatic switch it is remarkable how the consumption of water has risen. A washing machine does not save water.

How much more has the consumption of water risen in the case of industry, and, of course, of agriculture. It so happens that I and, I think, the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), recently had the opportunity of visiting the United States of America. One of the facts that impressed me very powerfully was the degree to which water is at this moment America's most important raw material. I saw in California and Arizona whole tracts of land, and indeed whole cities, which depended for their very recent expansion upon the fact that water was being extracted by powerful electric pumps from underground sources many hundreds of feet below the surface. That alone enabled people to live and, of course, to have agriculture and an industry. As far as agricultural marketing is concerned, even the finest milk and the choicest fruit are largely sales of water.

As the hon. Member for Deptford said, the provision of enough water at the right time is fast becoming a necessary item in efficient agricultural production, certainly in the east of England, where many of us need to supplement nature's erratic supply in six years out of seven. Therefore, we see a future in which, despite the normal over-liberal supply of rain, national water resources will play a decisive rôle in the deployment as well as in the volume of our production.

I hope, therefore, that this Bill, which is just one small pointer towards solving the problem of water shortage, will be the forerunner of a wider policy of water conservation which will be progressively developed as the Reports of the Central Water Advisory Committee become available. It seems to me that over the next few years we need as a nation to look very closely into the whole subject. It may be that we shall have to think in terms of bringing water from the comparatively wet West, to take some of Wales's surplus water away and let it flow towards the relatively arid East, and also to consider the use of natural underground storage capacity and its systematic replenishment.

I know that all these things are outside the scope of the present Bill, but they are not far removed from it. I hope that the Government will turn to the wider problem of water as a natural resource after they have disposed of the Bill, which I heartily support.

12.37 p.m.

Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I propose to make only a short intervention in this debate to comment, first, on the fact that it is, perhaps, a little odd that we should be discussing measures for dealing with drought when we have had one of the wettest weeks for a very long time.

In common with the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), I live in Essex, in Southend, and in the past few weeks we have been subject to a heavy rainfall as a result of which some of the roads are flooded. In normal times the rainfall in that area is so low that it rates as one of the driest parts of the country. As a result, the supply of water to the County of Essex, and particularly to Southend-on-Sea, becomes a very expensive operation. It costs so much for water in Southend that I am reliably informed that some people have given up drinking whisky. The whisky itself is dear enough, but the water which is sometimes added to it makes it prohibitive.

Therefore, I am a little worried about the Bill, which proposes to give to statutory water undertakers temporary powers to meet deficiencies. I hope that we can have an assurance that these powers will be used with some regard to the financial ability of the consumer to foot the bill. I very much hope that my hon. Friend will keep this matter very much in mind.

The hon. Member for Deptford will, I know, confirm that some problems in the County of Essex have been added to by the policy of taking the surplus population of London to Essex. That has meant a considerable extra demand for the supply of water for which the present residents in the area have to pay far more heavily than in almost any part of the country.

I am delighted to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that the Ministry is considering the question of the grouping of water undertakings. It seems to me that this might bring about greater efficiency in Essex where we have a different water undertaking charging a considerably higher rate. Considerable benefit might be given to consumers by a more efficient grouping of the undertakings with a view to supplying them with water at a reasonable price instead of at the present very high price. As I have said, in Essex we have a low rainfall generally, and the lowest supply of water from water holes compared with the rest of the country. It seems to those of us living in Essex that, though we live in a delightful county, we nevertheless suffer a handicap.

12.40 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

We have had one of the most interesting debates in my experience. I was particularly glad to listen to the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds), who showed a remarkable knowledge of the subject matter and a remarkable propensity for presenting his experience and knowledge in a form that was most acceptable today, and which, we are sure, will be equalled on future occasions.

The question of water for England and Wales was discussed rather more fully than usual in the last Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The Ministry pointed out, on page 64, that water undertakers can be expected to meet demands in all normal and some abnormal years, but they should not be asked to over-insure. A point can be reached at which provision of reserves sufficient for an exceptional run of dry years would entail a disproportionate amount of capital investment. We would all accept that, and that it is only a question of where we draw the line between normal supply and exceptional requirements. We have been engaged today in considering, rightly, how far the Bill is necessary, recognising that it is necessary to some extent, and how far the difficulty is in the character of the water supply and the machinery that regulates its distribution.

As far as possible, I shall not deal with any procedural question. Such questions can be raised in Committee. They are no doubt important and should be carefully looked at. One has to recognise that this is a Bill to meet exceptional circumstances which may, in the nature of the case, arise or come to a head rather rapidly and that it is not the type of case in which one is able to provide as fully as one would otherwise wish for matters like length of notice, inquiries, and so on. Again, it is a question of striking a balance.

The Bill follows rather closely the legislation introduced in a hurry in 1934. I was impressed—and I hope that the two Ministers were impressed—with what was said about the need to provide for other emergencies, but I doubt whether we can do it in the Bill in its present form. The need is still there and Section 12 of the Water Act will not meet the case. It requires 28 days' notice and in some cases special Parliamentary procedure. It is not sufficient, if it is intended to deal with an emergency like the collapse of an aqueduct.

There are two distinct questions in connection with water supply. One concerns national water resources and the other their management and distribution. Taking the latter first, I confess to being disappointed with the rate of progress with amalgamation. It was recognised as early as 1944 in the White Paper, "A National Water Policy"—I think that it was a Coalition Government document—that amalgamation of smaller units was necessary in the interests of efficiency if for no other reason. That has been recognised again and again, yet there have been only four or five compulsory amalgamations.

If we are to measure progress since about a year ago, by the four or five compulsory Orders drafted by the Ministry and mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary, we see that two had been drafted before May, 1957, and, according to that, only two or three drafted during the present year. The Minister sent round a circular on this matter towards the end of 1956, in November, and in speeches subsequently he has stressed the need for amalgamation. I hope that the pace will be increased.

There has been an impression given by some hon. Members that the only bodies requiring amalgamation and in relation to which amalgamation was being considered were the private water companies. These private water companies supply only about one-fifth of the country with water while the vast majority of undertakings are run by local authorities. There is just as much need to see that if a local authority is too small to run a water undertaking, it is in some form or another linked with other local authorities as there is to see that a very small water company is dealt with in the same way.

I express one hope about it. It is rather academic to talk about nationalisation or municipalisation of distribution, which is already a local authority function, with some surviving exceptions. I hope that those exceptions will not be multiplied, for the reasons given in the 1944 White Paper which said, as one of its main proposals and principles upon which it proceeded: Responsibility for water supply to rest with democratic bodies—at the centre with Ministers responsible to Parliament; at the circumference (without unnecessary change in the present organisation of statutory undertakers) with the responsible local authority. That is the principle upon which we ought to proceed in the matter of supply and distribution. It seems consonant with the Minister's duties in the matter.

The Minister has a general policy duty under Section I of the Water Act of 1945. It is his duty, to promote the conservation and proper use of water resources and the provision of water supplies in England and Wales and to secure the effective execution by water undertakers, under his control and direction, of a national policy relating to water. His duty is closely parallel to that of the Minister of Education under the Education Act, which is to secure a national policy about education and to have as his emissaries or agents—call them what you will—for that purpose, the local education authorities; so the Minister of Housing and Local Government—in England and Wales, at any rate, and I believe there are similar provisions in Scotland—has that duty in relation to local water undertakers.

In May, 1957, there were debates in the House and in another place on the broad question of water supply. This is very relevant to the question we are considering today, the question of what is an emergency which justifies the summary and sharp action originally provided for by Defence Regulations and to be provided for under this Bill.

I am permitted to quote from the proceedings in another place, since they were in another Session of Parliament, and I wish to cite in support of what I have to say a noble Lord who certainly is not a fully paid-up member of the Labour Party. I refer to Lord Swinton, who seemed on this occasion to talk a lot of—I was going to say "sense," but, if that is considered irreverent, I will say that he said some things with which I find myself in agreement. The noble Lord said: I would certainly agree with the last speaker that large undertakings, whether municipalities or companies, are extremely efficient. I would also agree that there are a lot of small undertakings which, by reason of their size, cannot be efficient and which, no doubt, ought to be amalgamated. But even when you have done that you have not solved the problem of conservation; you have only made the production, the management and the distribution more efficient. You have not dealt with the problem of national resources. It is really rather an odd thing that water is, I suppose, the only great national asset which is not considered nationally. Later, the noble Lord made his suggestion as to what should be done. While I would not wish to adopt that particular suggestion without further consideration, the principle seems to be right. The noble Lord said: … what I would suggest is that there should be a small body of National Commissioners and they should survey all the unused resources; and when a water company or a municipality wanted to tap a new source they would consult the Commission, who would advise the undertaker and also advise Parliament (when the matter came before Parliament on a Private Bill or some Provisional Order, or whatever it might be) whether the plan was in the national interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 29th May, 1957; Vol. 204, c. 86–7.] I would not wish to adopt that particular suggestion, but it seems to be right and necessary in principle. It was because the need for dealing with these administrative matters in relation to the broad question of national resources was recognised that, after Section 1 of the Water Act, 1945, laid down the Minister's responsibility, the next thing the Act did was to require that the Minister shall appoint a committee, to be called the Central Advisory Water Committee, for the purpose of—

  1. (a) advising him or any other Minister concerned upon matters connected with the conservation and use of water resources;"
—and there followed more detailed subjects of advice.

That Central Advisory Water Committee has had a rather curious history. There were periods when it did not meet at all. It did not meet once in 1957. I am not at all certain that it has met in 1958. In October, 1955, two very important sub-committees were appointed, one of which was to advise on the demand for water. I share the relief that one hon. Member has already expressed that we now know, by an Answer to a Question I put to the Minister on 1st July, that reports from that sub-committee and another important sub-committee are likely to be ready in the early autumn. They will have taken two years to make them, but I do not complain about that for a reason I shall explain. The reports will be published after they have been adopted by the Committee.

Why I do not complain is that we have singularly little information at present about what the national water resources are and very little information about what the national consumption of water is. The amount given out through the public water supply, including all these organisations, was estimated in a recent very useful paper published by P.E.P. on 27th January, 1958, at about 2,500 million gallons a day. About 1,600 million gallons was for domestic and commercial use and about 900 million gallons for industry and agriculture.

There then follow some staggering figures. The electricity supply industry uses up to 15,000 million gallons a day. That water is used and comes back and much of it is not drinking water, but it is still water. The steel industry uses 350 million gallons a day. The chemical industry uses about 820 million gallons a day. We have to put that against the total of about 900 million gallons a day used both by industry and agriculture out of the public supply. It is, therefore, refreshing to see that there are, at any rate, national water resources unused to a very large extent. I am not saying that all those national resources can be used for every purpose. There is water and water, but a very considerable potential increase is shown.

I come to the broad question which Lord Swinton raised and which, I agree, is a very urgent matter for national consideration. If we look at the Report issued by the Ministry for 1957, we find some very interesting information. About one-third of the water supply in the country is underground water, which is not visible until we begin to use it. That is the subject of conservation orders, and if we consult the map of England and Wales published in the Report we see where it lies. A very large part is in East Anglia and the Midlands and, going further North, through Yorkshire almost to Northumberland.

On the other side of the picture, we find the staggering situation on which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) was so eloquent and speaks with such knowledge and experience, that the part of the country which has obvious easy water resources is also the part of the country in which there is the greatest deficiency of domestic water properly pumped and made available.

When we consider the use of those resources, I suggest to hon. Members we ought to bear in mind the main supply, the proper use of national resources, the question whether Merseyside should be supplied from Wales and to what extent, the question whether Welsh supplies or supplies from other well-watered areas of the country should be taken from those areas, and to what extent. All those are major questions.

When we come to the question of distribution, even if we have statutory water boards we cannot wipe out the local authority responsibility for the reason that when we deal with the taps in the house and the actual supply there are questions between landlord and tenant and the local authority concerned which are, and must be, purely local questions. That was why I refer to the water companies as to some extent an anachronism. The natural position is that we should have a national policy for the supply, conservation and use of the main national resources and that their management and distribution should fall, at any rate, to a considerable extent on the local authorities.

Those are the suggestions which I want to put before the House today. We in this party attach very great importance to this matter. I think it fair to say that the country as a whole and the Conservative Party, too, have attached great importance to it, but I am profoundly disappointed at the lack of progress in the question of the conservation and the proper use of national resources.

I do not think that this sub-committee will have taken too long to investigate the matter; two years seems to me quite reasonable, given the amount of knowledge required. But the need for a national water policy was stated quite clearly in the White Paper of 1944. Government after Government—we must take some responsibility, too—have failed to carry it out fully. We at least introduced the Water Act, 1945, which represented a very large step forward. It is now high time that we took the matter a little further forward, or one fine day we shall find not only that the lack of water supply is cramping the proper distribution of industry and population in this country, as hon. Members opposite have pointed out, but that in some cases, including Greater London, we have shortages which are not emergency shortages but are due to our own lack of national foresight and national policy.

I therefore hope that this small Bill will be passed, with any necessary alterations, which, it seems to me, will be few, but also that the Bill, the expression of good intentions in the 1957 Report and the pressure which there has been on amalgamations, will not be allowed to be taken as a substitute for the national water policy which is so urgently required in the long run, the more so because of the growing demands of both industry and agriculture, as well as of domestic consumption.

1.2 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)

I am grateful for the welcome given to the Bill, which is truly non-party political, and I assure the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that we intend, through all the stages of the Bill, to look sympathetically at what he described as "any necessary alterations". Our object is to make it the best Bill we can get.

May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) on his well-informed and traditionally non-controversial maiden speech. Whether the finer distinction between municipalisation and nationalisation is or is not controversial, is a matter between himself and his hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). For my part, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering. On our side the question is academic.

The hon. and learned Member also referred to a national water policy. That is hardly within the scope of the Bill, but hon. Members who are interested in this point would no doubt be interested to read the chapter on water in the Annual Report of 1957 for England and Wales which, I am advised, puts the whole question into perspective.

Many of the hon. Members who have spoken today expected perhaps rather too much of the Bill. I was glad to hear the hon. and learned Member come back to the purpose of the Bill which according to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, is to give statutory water undertakers temporary powers to meet deficiencies in their supplies in time of drought. The hon. and learned Member and others felt that perhaps the scope of the Bill could be widened to cover shortages for other reasons. Representations on this matter have been made by some of the local authority associations—the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils' Association and the Association of County Councils in Scotland. My right hon. Friend has told the Associations that the Bill is basically part of a process of getting rid of Defence Regulations. The Government decided that permanent powers should not be taken unless they were shown to be absolutely necessary.

The hon. and learned Member knows that Defence Regulations have not been used to deal with troubles caused by floods, subsidence or similar types of delay in water supply. In such circumstances, there is nothing to prevent one water undertaking from passing water to another water undertaking. This can be arranged at very short notice by mutual agreement, without any orders, under Section 12 of the Water Act, 1945, in England, and in Scotland under Section 19 of the Water (Scotland) Act, 1946. Both these Sections are available for dealing with just such an emergency, and it is not necessary to cope with the problem in the Bill. If the passing of water between undertakings is necessary, no additional powers are needed.

Mr. Mitchison

The figures I gave show that there are very large water resources which do not fall within the ambit of public supply and which might be available, under proper safeguards, in emergency. That was the point which I had particularly in mind.

Mr. Browne

That would be a matter for the water undertaking in the area concerned, in consultation with all the interests concerned and the responsible Minister at the time the emergency arose.

The hon. Member for Islington, North referred to shortages that occurred while permanent works were being carried out and felt that this should be covered in the Bill. It is up to the water undertakers to start their work early enough to avoid such shortages. We do not want to carry them. It is their legitimate liability.

I might be asked, "What about help from bulk supplies? Why does not the Bill include special provision to enable bulk supplies to be made available from one water undertaking to another in time of drought?" The 1945 Act in England and the 1946 Act in Scotland already provide for an expedited procedure for approving the giving and taking of bulk supplies by statutory water undertakers, if the Minister is satisfied that by reason of an exceptional shortage of rain, or by reason of an accident or other unforeseen circumstances, a serious deficiency in the supply of water exists or is threatened in any locality … When hon. Members look at the 1945 and 1946 Acts, I think that they will find that these Acts cover nearly all the points which one might feel at first glance might have ben included in the Bill.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

In view of the fact that the Water (Scotland) Act, 1946, was a very comprehensive Act and was dealt with by the Scottish Standing Committe, why is Scotland now being tacked on to an English Bill instead of having a separate Bill for Scotland which would go to the Scottish Standing Committee? Is the hon. Member aware that the Bill dealing with bus shelters was sent to the Scottish Standing Committee? Are not the Government doing everything possible to sidetrack the Scottish Standing Committee because they know that they have not a majority in Scotland?

Mr. Browne

As the hon. Member knows, the Bill dealing with bus shelters was a Scottish Bill dealing with a problem which was a Scottish and not a United Kingdom problem. If he waits until I have finished my speech he will see that we are dealing here with a Great Britain Bill. I was coming to the point which he raised in the knowledge that if any Scot were listening to the debate that question would be asked.

I will not engage too far with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering on the question of regrouping. I assure the hon. and learned Member that an immense amount of work is now going on in this direction and that my right hon. Friend is confident that we shall see considerable amalgamations in the next year or so, mostly on a voluntary basis. Where, it is evident, however, that local water undertakings have no genuine intention of regrouping voluntarily, I am advised that my right hon. Friend will not hesitate to use his compulsory powers.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty), whose speech I much appreciated, and my hon. Friends the Members for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) and for Louth (Mr. Osborne) raised important points dealing with the effect of the Bill on outside interests and other considerations. The question of pollution was raised. I can give an undertaking that my right hon. Friend the Minister will take all these points into account in deciding whether an Order should be made.

I draw the attention of those who raised the point to Clause 1 (5), which is very short and extremely wide. It states that: In the exercise of his power to make orders under this section the Minister shall have regard to the interests of all persons concerned in the conservation or use of the water to which the order relates. In another place, this subsection was so amended that nothing specific is mentioned and it is all-embracing.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East asked about statutory water undertakers. Hydro-electric boards are not within the definition, but they will be able to make representations when an Order is in process. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton was concerned about compensation. The basis of compensation is damage and injurious affection. These are considerations which are familiar to the valuers and we are advised that no difficulties should arise. Similar provisions worked quite satisfactorily in the 1934 Act. Another point raised by my hon. Friend concerned the Lands Tribunal. We are seriously considering his suggestion and will look at it closely.

Mr. Mitchison

May I ask a question concerning the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)? I notice that the arbitrator is to be selected from a panel of persons nominated by the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Can the Joint Under-Secretary tell an ignorant Englishman whether that is an English or a United Kingdom institution?

Mr. Browne

It is a United Kingdom institution and the choice of the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers is acceptable to all good Scotsmen.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is he a Scot?

Mr. Browne

That I do not know.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East spoke about the registration of interested parties. That is a Committee point. We think that it would be better to do that sort of thing by administration rather than by writing it into the Bill. We do not want to write into the Bill too much of what can be covered by administration. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton raised a number of points on the First Schedule which I had myself raised on reading the Bill. He was worried about source or site and about the notice in the newspapers being all-embracing. What my hon. Friend said will be carefully studied. It is our intention to put right anything in which we feel that anybody's interest has been omitted.

Two hon. Members raised the question of private boreholes. We must consider this in Committee. The owners and the occupiers of the land have, of course, the right of objection under the First Schedule. In the circumstances envisaged in the question, I feel that they would be able to put up such an overwhelming case against the water undertakers that it would not be worth their while to try to proceed to take water out of the borehole. In any case, I have quoted Clause I (5), which covers that sort of thing. I do not think that this is a practical problem, although in theory it is one which might frighten people a good deal.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East suggested that seven days was too short a period and my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton was worried about the period of notice in the case of a newspaper which is issued on a Friday. We are anxious to listen to all arguments. On that question, if papers are issued on a Friday and the London Gazette comes out on a Tuesday, we could probably overcome the difficulty by specifying seven days after the insertion of the notice in the particular paper. On the question of seven days as opposed to, say, 21 days, this is, of course, a matter of striking the correct balance between the rights of individuals who would like to see 21 days' notice and the needs of the emergency.

This is an emergency Measure. In his opening speech, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out that if we allowed too much notice, there would be a tendency to make too early an application for Orders that were never brought about. When the Bill is considered in Committee, I think that it will be seen that the undertakers have considerable time in which to make their investigations when a drought is building up and that, once the drought condition is known to be approaching, the shorter period will be wiser than the longer one. The difficulty which is caused to people concerned by the short notice will have been overcome, because the work of preparing the Order will automatically have kept most of them advised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton spoke of us as a nation of water wasters. That was not a very fair comment. As we all know, in times of drought or partial drought many undertakings make restrictions on the watering of gardens or the use of water for washing cars. In a serious drought, however, the sort of drought to which the Bill refers, the mere saving of water by domestic users would not solve the problem. It would be much bigger than that.

The hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) suggested that a water grid might be a good idea. Water has very different physical properties from gas or electricity. Gas or electricity can be made at the place where we want to make it, but water must be collected where Nature has provided it. If the hon. Member envisages the possibility of a nation with pipes going up and down and across it, in terms of capital expenditure it would be quite fantastic to have a water grid.

The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) asked a question the answer to which I should like to put on record. He asked about the Welsh Committee. A survey has been made by my right hon. Friend's inspectors. It is now in the hands of the Welsh Advisory Water Committee, who must be allowed time to consider it. The hon. Member covered a wide range of matters. I would like to tell him that my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has such a keen interest in the Principality, will look carefuly at the constructive points he made. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth asked two questions, but as he is not present I will write to him.

The Bill helps to answer the problem which for every one of us is difficult to answer: how much of what we have should we spend on good living and current necessities and how much should we save for a rainy day—or, in this case, should I say a fine day? By the Bill we reduce the necessity, as the hon. and learned Member said, for a degree of over-insurance, a degree of too much capital expenditure which would otherwise be necessary if normal water sup- plies were to be maintained in times of exceptional shortage. I think that the hon. and learned Member will agree with me that this is one of the greatest merits of the Bill, this ability to save capital expenditure and direct it into more useful channels.

Mr. Mitchison

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to use his considerable influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get the Chancellor to relax restrictions on expenditure on water just as he is relaxing certain other financial controls?

Mr. Browne

I do not know whether my influence is considerable, but I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will see that comment.

The Bill, as hon. Members have pointed out, has other merits. If the full effects of drought are to be avoided, speed of action is essential, but speedy action by utility undertakings can mean trampling on other interests, and the Bill does, we believe, nicely hold the balance between speed and fair play. The Bill concerns itself only with Orders which are urgently needed and which are only temporary. Many of the points raised are already covered, I think, by the 1945 Act in England and the 1946 Act in Scotland. No one, under this Bill, can be permanently deprived of his land or his rights to water, and there are very fair compensation provisions.

Another point, which has not been made, is that this Bill is severely practical. It enshrines in permanent legislation the practical experience gained by operating for nearly twenty years under the Defence Regulations; so we know the Bill will work and that it will be used, and we know that it will work before we pass it, which is more than can be said of every Bill which passes through this House. Of course, we hope that it will never be used.

It is truly a Great Britain Bill which the Scottish local authority associations and other interests concerned approve. It is appropriate that a Scottish Minister should take part in the debate on this Bill. In the past ten years four Scottish local authorities have used the Defence Regulation powers on fifteen different occasions. Almost all of the Bill applies to Scotland, but I think that it would be helpful, especially for the hon. Member who raised the point and for our deliberations in Committee, if I briefly enumerate the points which do not apply to Scotland and why that is so.

Clause 1 (2), dealing with inland navigation, is not likely to be required in Scotland for geographical reasons. Clause 1 (3, b) is not applicable to Scotland as the powers to borrow are already available to the public bodies concerned.

Clause 2 (1, b), which deals with the maintenance of water charges in an emergency, is not applicable as in Scotland water rates are levied by the ordinary rating authorities, and subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 3 are not applicable as there are no Scottish Orders under Defence Regulations still in force.

Finally, there are no drainage authorities in Scotland, so the reference made to them in the First Schedule applies to England and Wales only. Otherwise, the whole Bill applies equally to Scotland and England.

Lastly, I must give Scotland one word of praise. Although we still use the horrible word in other contexts, I am glad to say, as may be seen in Clause 4 (2), that in the handling of water we call ourselves local water authorities and not undertakers.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).

Forward to