HC Deb 18 July 1962 vol 663 cc587-96

10.53 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Thornton (Farnworth)

I beg to move, That the Bolton Water Order, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th June, be annulled. I move this Motion in order to give an opportunity to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) to move and to my hon. Friend the Member for Charley (Mr. Kenyon) perhaps to support if they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the Amendment which is on the Order Paper. We are all three, I think, seeking the same objective, namely, the reference of the Petition of General Objection by the Irwell Valley Water Board to a Joint Committee of both Houses.

This collusion is forced upon us by the cumbersome and rather complicated procedure. I want to add my strong protest against this procedure to the protests made in earlier debates on the Llanelly and Cambridge Water Orders. Not only is it inconvenient in that it requires two or more hon. Members to stay late at night engaged in a sort of collusive, bogus action—I do not think that anyone wants the Order annulled— but we have so to move, I understand, in order to get consideration of the Petition of General Objection referred to a Joint Committee.

The very unsatisfactory procedure applied to these Orders can operate very harshly against a petitioner. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) on 13th March, there are only six Parliamentary days available for moving a Motion from the time of the report by the Chairman of Ways and Means, and these six days can be even further reduced by the operation of the 11.30 p.m. rule, which we are now observing, and which we had experience of last night. We can well visualise circumstances arising in which it would be impossible to discuss a Petition to Parliament, due to the unsatisfactory nature of this procedure. I urge that a more satisfactory way be found.

I must make my remarks even briefer than I intended, because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale has arguments to deploy, and I do not want to preclude the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. E. Taylor) from making the remarks that I know he is anxious to make. The petitioners, the Irwell Valley Water Board, submit two Petitions—one of General Objection to, and one of Amendment of, the Bolton Water Order, 1962. I understand that the Petition for Amendment will go automatically to a Joint Committee of both Houses. The purpose of the Motion and Amendment is to ask the House to refer also the Petition of General Objection to the Joint Committee. I hope that the Minister will concur in this.

In the case of the Cambridge Order the then Parliamentary Secretary argued that expense would be saved if the Petition of General Objection were not referred. That argument cannot apply in this case, because a Joint Committee will have to examine a case on the Petition for Amendment.

In their General Objection the petitioners point out their expectation that the ultimate move will be to make a larger grouping, embracing not only the Bolton area and the Irwell Valley area but the Heywood and Middleton Water Board, and the Rochdale Corporation water undertaking. The point I want to put to the Minister is that I know these areas very well, and the recommendation and advice of an eminent water engineer is to the effect that the best solution would be to have this wider grouping.

Mr. John McCann (Rochdale)

Surely the Vail Report recommended that the Irwell Valley Board should be amalgamated with Bolton in the east, while Rochdale was included in the Tame and Roche Valley area. The objection of Rochdale Corporation is that it should be asked to go in with the Bolton area.

Mr. Thornton

I am afraid that my hon. Friend is lengthening my speech, which I was trying to curtail. The petitioners content that the Vail Report of 1950 is now somewhat outdated, and that the best scheme would be to have this wider area. My apprehension is that if this comes as a second step, after the grouping of the Bolton undertaking with the Irwell Valley undertaking, the next step would be to have the wider area, and in the wider area the probability is that we would have a joint board consisting only of the Bolton County Borough and the Rochdale County Borough, and representation by the county district would be irretrievably lost.

It is unthinkable that in this wider area the Bolton County Borough should be the responsible Authority, because its population would constitute only about 25 per cent. of the population served by the wider area, including Rochdale. Therefore, the petitioners feel strongly that the problems of the wider areas and adequate statutory representation on the controlling water authority should be examined by a Joint Committee of both Houses.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

I beg to move, to leave out from "the" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof Petition of General Objection of the Irwell Valley Water Board against the Bolton Water Order 1962, be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses". As my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) has said, he and I are tonight in perfectly honourable collusion on this subject, and his characteristically lucid explanation has greatly eased my task. As he has reminded us, on this occasion both a Petition for Amendment and a Petition of General Objection have been lodged, and certified by the Chairman of Ways and Means and by the Lord Chairman of Committees as proper to be received. In those circumstances, the Petition for Amendment will go automatically to a Joint Committee but, unless the House so decides, the Petition of General Objection will not.

The right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Public Building and Works explained to the House on 13th March that the Government do not think it right that all Petitions of General Objection should go automatically to a Joint Committee. I think that the House would accept that point of view. But unless it agrees—and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, upon whose appointment to office all of us would wish to congratulate him, will encourage it to do so—only specific amendments will be considered by a Joint Committee, and not the general objections.

We object, not to regrouping in principle, but to this Order. The area of three water undertakings will be affected. First of all, there is the area of the Bolton Corporation, which extends considerably beyond the county borough boundary. It has a population of 270,000, and a rateable value of just over £3 million. There is the area of the Bacup Corporation, with a population of 17,000, and a rateable value of £159,000. And there is the area of the Irwell Valley Water Board—the Board was established in 1900—which covers nine local authority districts, the principal being Bury, Rawtenstall, Radcliffe, Haslingden, Ramsbottom and White-field, with a population of 162,000, and a rateable value of just under £2 million. Under the Order, all three of those undertakings would become part of the Bolton Corporation undertaking.

Bacup, and a large part of the area of the Irwell Valley Water Board, are in my constituency. Bacup Corporation is happy about the proposal, but the Irwell Valley Water Board, with two-fifths of the population of the area and two-fifths of the rateable value, is very far from happy, and I will state very generally what the objections are. I will state them generally, because I think that the detailed objections should be considered by the Joint Committee.

Our main objections are twofold. First of all, as my hon. Friend implied, we believe that the proposals in the Order are based largely on the recommendations of the Vail Report of 1950. I understand that at that time it was envisaged that, in future, bulk supplies for both Bolton and the Irwell Valley area would come from the Manchester Corporation's Haweswater aqueduct. Since then, it has been arranged that Bolton will continue to have water from Manchester's Thirlmere aqueduct, and that the Irwell Valley will get supplementary supplies from the Haweswater aqueduct at Whitefield.

It was further envisaged at the time of the Vail Report that supplies from Manchester would be taken into the Tame and Roche areas. But since then new reservoirs have been constructed and it is the view of the Irwell Valley Water Board that the arguments raised in the Report are no longer relevant and that proper regrouping should be on a more comprehensive scale than was envisaged at that time.

Since the inquiry conducted by the Minister, the Irwell Board has taken the advice of an eminent water engineer, who has commented: Ultimately—particularly if legislation is introduced to form River Conservation Authorities—I think an amalgamation of these three units [Bolton, Irwell and Bacup, and Heywood & Middleton and Rochdale] supplying the whole of the Irwell catchment north of Manchester would be desirable. As there appears to be no prospect of accomplishing any amalgamations by agreement, compulsion will have to be used. This being so I should have thought it might as well be used to form a single authority for the whole area (i.e. Bolton, Irwell Valley, Bacup, Heywood & Middleton and Rochdale) straight away. The tactical advice of the water engineer need not be considered too seriously by the House, but in making the political decision we should take into account his specialist technical advice.

Our other principal objection is one covered by the Petition for Amendment, but it raises considerations of a more general nature. At present Bolton and Bacup have unfettered control of their water undertakings and run them with remarkable efficiency. I defy anyone to get better water than one can obtain in Bacup. The Irwell Valley comprises a number of local authorities and all of them have statutory representation on the Irwell Valley Water Board. They feel that, in those circumstances, they have some guarantee of fair treatment for their areas, and their representatives are answerable to the people of the area.

If we go ahead with the Bolton Water Order as it stands at present, the policy for the whole area, covering nearly 500,000 people, will be decided by a council which is answerable to only about one-third of the people affected. Representation on the Water Committee of the Bolton Corporation will be purely an act of grace on the part of that Corporation. It will be open to annual review and there will be no guarantee that any of the authorities concerned will have any influence on the policy of the undertaking.

We say, therefore, that a joint board, comprising representatives of all the local authorities affected, would be the ideal solution and would facilitate future mergers. It is because I deprecate any further erosion of the powers of our smaller local authorities, and because I believe that a more comprehensive scheme for the reorganisation of the water undertakings in this district is needed, that I ask the House to support the Amendment.


Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on his promotion to the Front Bench, the more so since this is a subject with which he is familiar and about which he has deep knowledge.

As the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) said, we are indeed in honourable collusion tonight. Hon. Members who represent constituencies in this area are very much concerned about the problem of water, but since the hon. Member for Rossendale has dealt with the matter adequately I do not propose, at this late hour, to delay the House. I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Rossendale had to say. I support his Amendment and hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will accept it. We are really discussing a matter which is far too complex to debate at great length at this time of night. Suffice to say that if my hon. Friend accepts the Amendment, which I hope he will, the problem might be suitably solved.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Edwin Taylor (Bolton, East)

I realise that there is some difficulty on account of time and therefore I shall be brief but, as a representative of one of the major towns concerned with this Order, I feel bound to speak. I strongly oppose the Amendment, for several reasons.

Firstly, I want to make it clear that Bolton has no intention of empire build-in. Bolton was asked by the Ministry to take over this extra responsibility and did so. Having done so, it must sup-pout the Order. I do not see that it would be in any way useful to form a board on this occasion. The board formed in the Irwell Valley has already failed. The water is dear and the undertaking needs a great deal of money spent on it.

We in Bolton are quite prepared to take over this responsibility and I appeal to my hon. Friend to leave the Order unchanged. There is no evidence that the population which is affected by the Order thinks otherwise. I have proof that 77 per cent. of the people concerned want the Order to go through. As users of the water they do not care who does the management. All they want is good, cheap water supplied efficiently. We consider that the grouping system now coming into operation can exactly meet that requirement.

There have been droughts from time to time and we in Bolton can proudly say that we have supplied the other authorities with water from Bolton and we are always pleased to do so. I hope that the Order will be left as it is and that the grouping system, with which we fully agree, will remain unchanged.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. John McCann (Rochdale)

I intervene briefly to put the point of view of the Corporation of Rochdale. We do not mind the Order going through or even going to a Joint Committee of both Houses. We only hope that it is not sent to the Joint Committee for the wrong reasons.

We feel that one of the reasons why a Petition was presented against the Measure was to prevent the Irwell Valley Water Board from losing its identity. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO".] When the regrouping was suggested, we in Rochdale objected, and the Minister wrote on 2nd March: On the suggested regrouping to the east, the Minister would have been prepared to consider this alternative if there had been expressed to him any strong mutual desire among the authorities themselves for it. The Board do not appear to have won the sup- port of the authorities to the east and, in the absence of any agreed case being put to him for such a merger, he sees no reason to depart from the implementation of the water survey recommendations. In an intervention earlier I made our position clear. I hope that the Joint Committee will bear these reasons in mind in reaching a decision and will allow us in Rochdale to retain one of the finest water undertakings in the North-West

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)

When I came into this House in 1945 I resigned from the Irwell Valley Water Board, having been a member for a number of years. I support my hon. Friends the Members for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) and for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) in what they have said on behalf of the Irwell Valley Water Board. To say that it is inefficieint, has dearer water and so on is an argument that cannot be borne out. This is one more case of a large authority swallowing up small authorities, on this occasion at the instance of the Minister. We are seeing democracy eroded in so many of these mergers of undertakings, and it is no wonder that the public are losing interest in local government in many spheres.

This merger is put forward on a number of grounds, but I will deal with only two. We are told that economy and benefit will follow from it. We always find that these arguments are used on these occasions. They are very desirable but they are very hypothetical. We often find that they do not work out in practice.

When a large undertaking takes over small authorities, the costs, however small they may be at the beginning, gradually increase until they are as high as ever. The Irwell Valley Water Board serves a very large area. If it is taken over by Bolton, right over to the west of the area, because of the geographical conditions the transport costs alone will be tremendous. It will mean more staff, more travel and more vehicles. I cannot see how in this merger there could be cheaper water or a more efficient service.

I now want to deal with the subject of representation. At the moment all the undertakings in the Irwell Valley Water Board area are represented on that board. They have a say in the work of the board. They can report to their respective authorities and they can put forward proposals from time to time which have the approval and support of the authorities. If they come under Bolton the nine authorities will have about three representatives. Some of the authorities will not be represented at all. Under a joint board it would be possible for them all to be represented. There would be fair representation.

I hope the Minister will send the Petition of General Objection to a Joint Committee.

11.19 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)

I should like to start by thanking the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) and my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) for their kind welcome to me in this rather frightening position in the House.

This Order differs considerably from the Cambridge Order where the objections to the Petition were against the whole policy of amalgamation which I think is a policy accepted by both sides of the House, and indeed was inaugurated with the agreement of the party opposite as far back as 1944. There is no question of opposing the Amendment, although, owing to this rather curious procedure by which we have first to move the annulment of the Order altogether, I have to advise the House not to accept the main Motion. I think that I should be defeating the object of hon. Members opposite if I did not do so.

The hon. Member for Farnwoxth (Mr. Thornton) drew attention to this procedure once again. I appreciate that it is to some extent both inconvenient and artificial. He will, however, appreciate that it is laid down in the Water Act, and legislation would be needed to alter it. We shall keep it under review, but I cannot make any immediate promise about it. Although we ran it a bit fine on this occasion, there never has been an occasion on Which anyone has been prevented from moving a Motion and Amendment such as we have tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, Bast (Mr. E. Taylor) is quite night when he says that my right hon. Friend takes the view that the arrangement set out in the Order would be the most satisfactory, but I cannot agree with him when he suggests that people do not care. I believe that they do care. People get intensely patriotic about their local water supply. This seems to be an admirable subject for a Joint Committee to study. My Ministry is very willing that the matter should go to a Joint Committee. We accept the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) but, of course, we must oppose the main Motion moved by the hon. Member for Farnwonth.

Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question, put and negatived.

Proposed words there added.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Petition of General Objection of the Irwell Valley Water Board against the Bolton Water Order, 1962, be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses.

Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.