HL Deb 26 April 1944 vol 131 cc520-50

LORD BINGLEY rose to call attention to the unsatisfactory supply of water in rural districts; to inquire what plans the Government have for its improvement; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion was put down a good many months ago. It was postponed three times at the request of the Government. I do not want to complain about that, because I had no wish to harass the Government into making any premature statement about plans not fully made. I put it down because with all the spate of planning which is going on in regard to rural housing at the present time, it seemed to me that we were concentrating on a great many minor details and were rather inclined to neglect what seems almost the principal need in many rural districts—a better and more efficient water supply. We have been talking a great deal about the size of cupboards and the position of windows in rural houses, whether they should have baths and so on, but it is no use putting in a bath or a w.c. unless there is going to be a proper supply of water, and under present conditions it is quite impossible, in many areas, for that to be provided.

It was well worth waiting to get the very comprehensive and far-reaching plan which is embodied in the White Paper recently issued, and for which I think we have cause to be grateful to the Government. My Motion is limited to the supply of water in rural districts. The bigger towns and urban districts are on the whole well supplied, and the question of drought, which we have been thinking a good deal about lately, does not come into this at all. The drought may make things worse, but at all times, drought or no drought, there is a definite want of proper organization of supply in many rural districts. The debate may extend over the whole subject. I do not propose to deal with the whole subject myself, but I know your Lordships rather pride yourselves on having no rules of order, and on the fact that any subject can be introduced on any Motion. As to that, of course noble Lords will suit themselves. I shall only deal with the rural problem, and I do not propose to say anything about Scotland. My own impression about Scotland whenever I have been there is that there has generally been a very good supply of water coming down from the clouds, and the problem ought to be less present in Scotland than it is in many of the districts I shall speak about in this country.

There have been two conflicting forms of activity in dealing with this question of water, one very active working to get rid of he water and get it out of the way to the sea as soon as possible, and the other planning how to conserve it for the domestic use of the people in the area where it is found. Activity in the latter respect has not been nearly so marked as that concerned with the very necessary process of trying to improve the drainage of the country generally. But better drainage, hard roads, asphalted surfaces and all that sort of thing have all tended to get the water away more quickly, and at the same time that process has coincided with a large increase in housing and therefore a large increase in the demand for water. The conservation and distribution of water especially in rural districts has been very haphazard and thoroughly British. There have been great schemes for supplying our big towns and urban districts, and they have often actually robbed rural districts of Potential sources of supply, which otherwise might have saved them from the position they are in now. There have been a large number of small undertakings in the country belonging to private companies, local authorities, estate schemes and so on, very often conflicting and very often incomplete under present conditions, when the population has increased and the number of houses, and consequently the demand, have become very much greater.

The White Paper tells us there are something like one thousand different water undertakings in the country, and it must be obvious that a good deal should be done to amalgamate some of these, in view of the fact that in many cases they are conflicting and quite unsuited to the areas with which they have to deal. In many parts of the country you get waterlogged land alongside waterless houses, you get flooded pits and a dry surface above them, and altogether the whole question is very often one which is producing and will produce more and more serious results. The hardship to the rural housewife I need not describe to your Lordships. The difficulties of the woman who has only a shallow well, which at times goes dry, are obvious. After all, what is the use of giving an agricultural labourer a bath when you do not provide him with enough water, and he has to carry about all he wants in a bucket. The whole thing involves very great hardship and if we are really trying—as we are—to improve the conditions of rural housing and the comfort and sanitary conditions of those who live in the country I am sure this is a subject in which we cannot take too much interest.

As regards the difficulties of agriculture, it is perfectly obvious that with the great increase which we are hoping for in the milk supply and the better production of milk, a purer and more elaborate supply of water is very much needed, and this should have been dealt with long ago. There is one encouraging fact, and it is endorsed by the White Paper. The White Paper says there is ample water in this country for all needs, that the problem is not one of total resources but of organization and distribution. Great additional powers are promised by the White Paper for local authorities and very considerable financial help, all operated by a national authority. These suggestions should do a great deal to improve the position. A sum of £15,000,000 is promised to develop the water supply in the rural districts in England and Wales alone, and the existing authorities, such as they are, are to be strengthened. The rural advisory water committees are promised greater strength and the Central Advisory Water Committee are given statutory power. I think we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to that Committee presided over so long by the noble Lord, Lord Milne, for the great work that they have done in bringing this question forward and for the value of the suggestions they have made. But as to what exactly is meant by the change in their position whereby they are now to have statutory powers given to them, instead of being merely advisory as they were before, I am not quite clear. I hope it means a great deal, but perhaps the Minister will be able to make clear what the strength of their position will be when they have got these new powers.

There is one thing I should like to ask, and that is about the Inland Water Survey. They have done good work in the past, and they deal mainly with the underground water supply. If statutory powers are going to be given to the Central Advisory Water Committee I should like to know what is happening about the Inland Water Survey. Are they to be amalgamated with them? Are they to be given statutory powers? If not, I think something ought to be done to make it quite clear that there must be a complete co-ordination of all water resources, and the underground water ought to come into the picture even more than it appears to do in the White Paper. But the actual executive control and driving force and all the planning are ultimately in the hands of the Ministry of Health. I should have preferred, I must say, some form of board, with independent powers or something of that kind. I admit the great difficulty of this. Indeed, it is difficult to see how these things can fail to come under the authority of the Ministry of Health, when questions of sanitation, pollution and things of that sort are so closely involved. And it is difficult to see how you can escape from what has hitherto been rather the dead hand of the Ministry of Health. I personally dislike the setting up of new authorities, with the constant overlapping that occurs as a result, and the increase of bureaucracy, but it is difficult to see how you can avoid it in this case. At the same time the Ministry of Health have got a great deal to do, and their record in the past in the matter of water supply in rural districts has certainly not been a good one.

It is thirty-six years since Lord Desborough brought into your Lordships' House a Bill which was finally sent to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and this is the Report which that Committee made. They recommended first, that a comprehensive inquiry into the whole subject of surface and underground water supplies should be held before any legislative action of the kind proposed in that particular Bill was taken; and, secondly, that the creation of an organization was needed with power to inquire into the whole question of surface and underground water supplies, to supervise the future allocation of supplies, and to serve as authoritative adviser to Parliament in the consideration of particular schemes. That is thirty-six years ago, and very little has happened since then. For years the pigeon-holes of the Ministry of Health have been stuffed with reports—very able and very useful reports—on this subject. The Inland Water Survey Committee was set up in 1937; we had the three admirable Reports of Lord Milne's Central Advisory Water Committee; the Geological Survey has been considering the question of underground supplies and reporting on them for a considerable time. There have been the Barlow and the Scott Reports on this subject, and in addition the Institution of Water Engineers and the British Waterworks Association are bubbling with information which they are longing to give. There has been no lack of information at the Government's disposal for dealing with this question.

The noble Lord who will reply may remind me that there is a war on. But that is not the whole story; that only applies to very recent times. I think that the Ministry of Health cannot be entirely absolved from the charge of having neglected this position. All this information wants co-ordinating by an active body, but little has been done in the past, and we hope now, after what has been said in the White Paper, that something is going to be done. The urgency of the need in the rural districts is shown by the fact that when a grant of £1,000,000 was made in 1934, that produced £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 of work actually done. That shows how anxious local authorities and other bodies were to give any help and to carry out any work of that kind that came to their hands. The rural areas have been the poor relations all through. Their water needs are one of those tiresome facts. It is no use giving powers unless they are going to be used, and I hope that really effective use will be made of these powers for the control of underground and surface water, especially, and for coordinating the whole sources of supply which are available. I wish it could have been a more independent controlling body than the Ministry of Health. I should like to ask whether it would not at least be possible to have some separate branch or department of that Ministry to deal solely, or nearly solely, with this great subject, or even have a Minister allotted whose special duty it would be to take charge of this particular branch of the Ministry's operations.

Finally, I only want to thank the Government for having produced in the White Paper such an admirable summary of the difficulties that have been occurring and of the way in which they propose to deal with them, and also for promising that a Bill will be introduced during the present Session. I hope that great benefit may result from all this, and that there will be a real improvement in rural water supplies, say, during the next twenty years. All I have to do in conclusion is to thank the Minister for the trouble he has taken about this, for his kindness in letting me know that he was not ready to deal with the subject earlier, for asking me to defer this debate, and for having produced this very useful White Paper. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Addison has a Motion dealing with the whole water problem, urban and rural, on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House for May 23. In the normal course he would have been here to-day to listen with great interest to what has fallen from the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, but he has asked me to apologize for his absence as he is carrying out the sad duty of attending the funeral of Lord Snell. My noble friend Lord Faringdon, who was to have spoken, is accompanying him, and I am asked to apologize to Lord Bingley for his absence as well. My noble friends have asked me to say a few words —they will be very few—in support of what the noble Lord has said, and to add that we shall await with great interest what Lord Woolton will have to say in reply. This whole question is one of those perennial scandals which the public pay attention to only when there is a drought or a flood in some part of the country. Floods and droughts have alternated for generations in Britain, and time after time everyone has got busy and agreed that something must be done about it, but before long the whole matter has been forgotten. Now we have at least the programme contained in this admirable White Paper for which Lord Woolton is no doubt grateful, and I hope that this will be one of the first successful tasks which he will accomplish.

I wish to draw attention only to one matter which receives very scant attention in the White Paper, and that is the question of the purity of our rivers. Despite all the River Pollution Acts and all the authorities which have been set up to deal with river pollution, this is still a great evil in many parts of the country and a very serious matter. In the White Paper there is passing reference to it on page 13, and also a reference to it in the recommendations in Part II setting up river boards. A great deal of prejudice is aroused by this question. When protests are made about the pollution of rivers by some manufacturer, perhaps, or by a careless local authority, the cry is usually raised of "Trout against trade." It is said: "Oh, these are the fishermen who are thinking only of their own sport," and we have heard the cry raised that the fishermen are hampering trade. It is of course nothing of the kind. The matter goes much further than that. If a river is polluted every farmer with land along the banks of that river is affected. His cattle may he poisoned, his water supply affected. Indeed, as the drinking water of many people in the countryside is taken from the rivers, it is a most serious matter for the health of the community. A pure river is a gift of God which can easily be destroyed by man, for it is difficult to rehabilitate it once it has been befouled and polluted. It is difficult to make it clear again, and it affects agriculture and the whole population of the neighbourhood.

Even if it were only a question of the anglers, Lord Woolton and the Government know that there are thousands upon thousands of working men anglers in this country, to whom fishing is the principal sport and recreation. And a most admirable and estimable recreation it is. Even if agricultural and health interests are not affected, why should you lightheartedly destroy the fishing for these thousands of worthy men? They are usually most law-abiding and respectable members of the community. They must be so or they would not be anglers, for anglers are men of great patience and sweetness of temper. I therefore make no apology for saying a word on behalf of anglers, though I admit there are far greater interests at stake. This year die upper Kennett was woefully polluted, with most dire results on the water meadows and not less so on the fishing rights. That is a pollution which is only one example of many that have occurred increasingly during this war.

I think the Ministry of Health should stir up those responsible and prevent this pollution. I would like to see a warning sent out at once to all bodies responsible for preventing pollution, drawing attention to the fact that there has been increased pollution during the war and that it must be stopped. One of the most valuable suggestions of this White Paper is the proposal to set up river boards. Your Lordships will have noted that instead of the 1,600 existing authorities whose duty it is to look after land drainage and to prevent pollution, there will be set up twenty-nine river boards for the whole of England and Wales with adequate powers. I suggest to your Lordships that this proposal is most valuable and one to which priority should be given. This is something which could be done now, and I would plead with Lord Woolton to see whether that proposal cannot be given legislative effect to very soon. If you can set up twenty-nine powerful boards to control the whole of the rivers of the country as regards drainage and pollution, I think that would be a reform of great benefit to the whole community. On behalf of my colleagues who sit on these Benches I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Bingley for bringing forward this Motion upon which we await the Government's reply.


My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Bingley for bringing before your Lordships' House what I may call the rural aspect of an efficient water supply and to thank the Government, through my noble friend Lord Woolton, for the White Paper with generous prospective grants from the Exchequer (although not by any means too generous) and what appears to be the foreshadowing of a scheme which will bring the whole of the water supply problem of the country within a single ambit. I myself do not take exception particularly, as my noble friend Lord Bingley does, to the Minister of Health being in central control of the whole scheme. It is a source of immense gratification to me to feel that we are going at long last to have a complete national scheme in the matter of water utilization and fair distribution. I notice on page 5 of the White Paper under the head of "Water for Industry, Agriculture, etc.," this sentence: The importance of adequate supplies of piped water for agricultural purposes cannot be over-estimated, if efficiency in agricultural production is to be achieved. In the past, production has, in many areas, been seriously hampered by lack of water. In the future this will be even more apparent as the success of modern scientific methods of alternate husbandry, and the improvement in the quality,— water does not always improve the quality— as well as the quantity, of the milk supply, depend largely on adequate supplies of water on the farms. The comment I want to make on that paragraph is this. The reference to alternate husbandry evidently had in mind the institution of ley farming. Now ley farming, which is sometimes explained as carrying the plough round the farm, means that every appropriate field will come, sooner or later, to pass under the plough and subsequently under pasturage, which means really that every field on a normal farm should have a cattle trough that will enable the stock upon that field, while it is under herbage, to be properly provided with water. It seems to me you have in that connexion to make it perfectly clear that you will want in future a very much larger supply of water for the normal farm than you have had in the past.

I have intervened in this debate because I feel some little measure of responsibility as having had the privilege of being Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Land Drainage of England and Wales whose Report eventuated in the Land Drainage Act of 1930. There was one very pertinent aspect of the whole land drainage problem which presented itself to my Commission in 1928-29, and it is well expressed in a paragraph which, to some extent, has been repeated in the White Paper. This is what it says: The flood waters in the high lands found their way to the outfall river by undefined channels, and probably took some weeks in the process, I believe in some cases the process has taken more than weeks, it has taken months— the result being that they were passed by slow degrees towards the outfall. Modern methods of agriculture have been adopted by the uplander as well as by the lowlander. Field drainage, especially by means of pipes, has become common to both. Then we go on to say: The result is that the waters from the uplands reach the outfall much more rapidly than they did formerly, and a much greater volume of water is poured into the outfall in a much shorter space of time than it would pass by natural means. This has driven the lowlander to expend vast additional sums on protective measures in the shape of barrier banks and on increased outfall facilities. We say further: …during the last century the population of these islands has multiplied exceedingly. Villages have grown into towns, and the population has become so dense that for hygienic purposes artificial systems of sewerage have of necessity been resorted to, and foreign water supplies installed, drawn either from other catchment areas at a horizontally distant source or vertically from deep wells fed from pervious rock outcrops, so that from some large towns many millions of gallons of effluent are daily voided into the outfall river, with results in time of food which may be better imagined than described. To put it shortly, rivers under modern conditions of roofing, paving, roadmaking, water supply, sanitation and agricultural under-drainage are called upon to discharge functions for which they were not designed by nature. Those words are, to a large extent, repeated in the White Paper, except that it refers to motors cars and hot baths and other matters which we did not specifically mention in our Report in 1929.

But I notice in the White Paper that although ultimately the whole scheme will become a national scheme and the whole of the available national water supply, if I may use the expression, will be fairly distributed to supply the wants of all classes of the community, it is suggested that there may be a partial approach to the matter and that something in the nature of an experimental local scheme may be embarked on in order to test its justification on a larger scale. I may be wrong in that interpretation of the White Paper, but if I read it aright it means that if water is carried to a certain area from another catchment area you are as it were stealing from that catchment area what nature intended to be the supply of that area. If you deal with the matter in a partial or local or even regional way you may find that you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and you may have very serious deficiencies of water actually accentuated by a piped supply in one area to the detriment of an unpiped supply in another area, possibly in the same catchment area and possibly in a different catchment area altogether.

I hope that I am wrong in the interpretation I have put upon the White Paper, but I do want most earnestly to urge that if it is at all possible, and if sufficient Government money is available for this important and crying national need, there should be as far as is practicable a simultaneous dealing with this water shortage problem over the whole country rather than that it should be dealt with piecemeal in one area or even one region. In any case I have noticed that the catchment boards are about to be abolished. The catchment boards, if I may be allowed to say so, were my own bantling and I am sorry to see that the bantling is about to be buried, but I want to urge that if possible the river boards which are to be set up instead of catchment boards shall have the whole control of the water over the area in which they operate. In other words, neither the internal drainage boards nor even the rural district councils whose authority in these matters appears to be perpetuated shall be able to interfere by anything in the nature of a restrictive or selective policy with the benefits of an adequate water supply over the whole of the area. I do not know if I have made my meaning clear, but there seems to be a little ambiguity about the wording of that part of the White Paper. It will be of enormous importance to those of us who sit on county councils or on district councils to know exactly what powers of control, if any, these bodies are going to have over the local water supply in days to come.

I do not think I need take up more of your Lordships' time except to express the hope that whatever authority is given the power of control and of administration it will be reasonably equipped with the financial means to carry out effectively and comprehensively the task committed to it. I think I am right in saying that it is stated in the White Paper that the bulk of the cost, or a large proportion of the cost, will fall upon the local rates. I am bound to say in the light of past experience, that I fear that there may be a considerable delay in carrying out this important water supply scheme in a large part of England if you are going to throw the bulk of the financial burden, or even a large proportion of the financial burden, upon the local rates. I venture to hope that the Government will realize that this is a national project of pre-eminent importance and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will provide adequately for the cost of it. Speaking as a countryman, I deplore the fact that, although urban supplies have been fairly well provided for, it has been done very largely at the expense of the rural areas by virtue of the fact that they at any rate have not had to the same extent a piped supply. Again I repeat that if we are going to have a piped supply let it be as far as possible a universal piped supply and not a partial piped supply which may operate to the detriment of those who do not enjoy that luxury.


My Lords, I wish with other noble Lords who have spoken to express the gratitude which we all feel to the Government for the White Paper on water supplies. It marks at least an intention to make perhaps the greatest advance in water supplies in general that there has been in this country. But I share to some extent the doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, about the ultimate control by the Ministry of Health of all aspects of our water supplies. Undoubtedly the Ministry of Health should have a say in the question of pollution and purity and also in the adequacy of the water supply, but on the other hand the Ministry is not necessarily the body which can decide best either on the industrial use of water or its rural use or on ecological aspects of the question.

I should like to dwell briefly on the ecological aspect and the rural use of water. The greatest part of our rainfall occurs in the north-west and the west of England, generally in the hilly country. The rest of England is a relatively dry area. Most of the east of England has a rainfall considerably less than that of the Sind Desert. It is to the east of a line running roughly from Hull to Dorchester that the greater part of the population of this country is to be found, and it is that side which is the driest. It is that side also to which there is a steady tendency for industry and population to migrate and it was there up to 1939 that there was the highest standard of life and therefore the greatest abstraction and use of water. Though the White Paper is reassuring on the total adequacy of our water supplies I am by no means happy over the fact that it is merely one-fifteenth of that total that we are using to-day, because it can have very serious ecological effects on the drier parts of the country if that water is abstracted from underground reservoirs. Although in parts of the country river water is purified and used for domestic supplies there is nothing to stop industrial users abstracting from under their property enormous supplies of underground water, and a great many domestic users both public and private do the same.

Considerable mention has already been made of the run-off to drains from road, street and roof direct into the sea, which again detracts from the accumulation of underground water supply. But the position is very startling in some cases in eastern England. The water level under St. Paul's Cathedral in the last hundred years has fallen 200 feet. Roughly speaking in the last twenty-five years it has fallen about 25 feel. I have heard it said, but I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the statement, that serious concern is being caused among engineers concerning the safety of the foundations of some big buildings owing to the drying out of the clay. But it is not only that it is going to matter on this account. The pressure on the upland springs is going to disappear.

If I may be allowed to speak from personal knowledge, may I tell your Lordships that I live in an area many parts of which are from the modern point of view waterless as regards surface and shallow well supplies? But there are very large underground supplies available. I know of one deep bore which supplies an area of sonic thousands of acres, which had previously been completely waterless, on which live some hundreds of human beings and some thousands of heads of live stock. The bore was originally guaranteed by all kinds of experts and geologists to provide an inexhaustible supply, and a completely permanent supply. And so it proved on tests made over twenty years working. But quite recently, in the last half dozen years, a tremendous difference has become apparent. New water undertakings have been started in the district and the level in the bore holes has now dropped six feet. Though the supply is quite good still it is obvious that technically the position is very dangerous for the lowering of the bottoms of the bores may result in water starvation in large areas, which can ill afford it and where a supply can only be restored with immense expense.

The same thing is reflected in the drying up of the head waters and the chalk streams where they rise. In some cases they are back five or six miles from the points where many people can remember them rising; in other words areas which were once fertile have now been very adversely affected. For many miles acres of watercress beds now lie barren and the whole balance of the farms on the upper reaches of the chalk streams is being upset. If this goes on the ecology of the countryside may be very seriously altered. Irrigation is no longer possible on some water meadows and the rich, lush grass occasioned by a high water table has disappeared. I believe that this lowering of underground reservoirs and therefore the lowering of underground springs is doing far more than local damage.

Now there are two causes of desiccation. One is the generally increasing abstraction of underground supplies which has been going on in the last thirty or forty years, more especially by industry in towns at the lower water levels. The other is the gradual deforestation of the country which has taken place since the time of the Tudors. Regard must also be had to the fact that more than ever to-day in market gardening overhead irrigation has, quite rightly, become more and more used for production purposes, and in the cultivation of general crops which now tend to take much more water out of the soil than the humus can leave in it. In these cases there is very serious danger, and I think we should put remedial measures in hand before it becomes too late.

I should like to urge that for the future safety of our rural life and food supplies, consideration should be given to one or two proposals. In the first place, I suggest that so far as is humanly possible we draw our water from the high rainfall districts by impounding it in the hills or draw it from the lower reaches of our south and eastward flowing rivers. I know it may be asked, "Where is the money coming from?" If you go round any of our large u owns to-day you will see that we have managed for temporary purposes to bring in enormous supplies of water. You will see them piped over-ground all over the place. In the period after the war when we are making adjustment for the demobilization both of industry on war purposes and the Service men and women for peace-time employment, one of the best ways of dealing with difficulties which will undoubtedly arise would be to go in for very large piped supplies. We should thus be able to absorb men and output in the supplying of a great water system which would ensure the wisest future use of our water and the greatest economy of our underground supply. It would, further, ensure against drying up in districts which can ill afford it.

With regard to the use of rural water supplies and their extension, I agree that this presents in many cases a most difficult problem. The financial provisions which are being made are a very great advance on anything which we have had in the past, and we are duly grateful. But the problem differs in different areas. Where supplies can be supplied by existing undertakings, as in compact villages close to the lines of existing developed supplies, the trouble will not be great, but where outlying farms and hamlets are concerned, quite a different problem presents itself. Quite rightly there is a demand for new amenities, and that demand has got to be met. Baths can be installed in dwellings but they must have an exit pipe which is both hygienic and sanitary. The moment you get indoor sanitation you come up against very much larger problems. Obviously when water is available there will be a very much increased demand for both these types of amenities. It is a matter which we shall have to watch with extreme care. As I say, the outlying farms and hamlets will have to be considered as well as the compact areas.

When piped supplies are made available more generally, the question of the education of the water users will have to be gone into. When you get as users of the new piped water supplies people who have never been accustomed to using anything but a bucket or two from the well, who have never known what it is to have sinks and bath rooms, with running water and indoor sanitation, a great deal of education is required. That is something which everyone knows who has had experience of these things in their own areas. It is not easy to get the new water supply properly used. It is also, of course, very difficult to meter out the water to small users. In fact it is practically impossible. A further question which immediately comes up is that of soak-away. At so many dwellings you get an insanitary soak-away. From sinks and bathtubs, although there is greater expense, there is no danger in this, but where cesspits have to be provided for indoor sanitation there may be pollution and there is accordingly a very real risk of disease arising.

If the Ministry of Health is going to have control of our future in respect of water supplies, I would urge that they go very slow in installing water sanitation in districts where this cannot be joined up with a public sewer system. I have myself lived for weeks and months on end in cottages with a satisfactory dry indoor system of sanitation. It was quite convenient and comfortable. Cesspits which cannot be easily emptied and disposed of are always a danger and the danger is accentuated wherever they are on low lying ground close to rivers. Dry indoor sanitation can be installed very speedily. I think, therefore, that there are two things which are necessary. Most of these water supplies, and particularly the outlying water supplies, will have to be put in by the most economic private method where good water is available under the ground, and there will be very little waste of good water. That will have to be done by private enterprise and individual owners. Because of the great expense of doing so—as those who have tried to put them in know—we are going to need exactly the same grants, in the form of the 50 per cent. grant for the extension of water supplies to cottages and to farmhouses as well as to agricultural land, and the extra expense involved in the provision of the amenities which result from the availability of that water in cottages will also require to be met. Very few farmers or landlords to-day have reserves which will enable them to put those in by the use of their own capital.

I urge on the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, therefore, that great care should be taken to secure equality of treatment for the private owner who puts in the necessary amenities in the countryside, and to see that he gets the same grant and the same credit facilities as do public authorities in the case of approved schemes. I yield to no one both in theory and in practice in my enthusiasm for seeing a thoroughly good rural water supply installed throughout the length and breadth of this land, but I do ask that it shall be done with wise discrimination between urban and rural conditions, and that it shall be done with justice to the private landowner as well as to the public ratepayer.


My Lords, I want to make a few observations on this White Paper. Perhaps I may be allowed to say that I have been professionally interested as a counsel in matters of water supply and water pollution, and other cognate subjects, for a great many years. That leads me to begin by observing that the law has long needed amendment, and that the amendments proposed in the White Paper are of great importance and will revolutionize the methods of dealing with these problems. I would add that in my judgment the powers which are proposed to be given to the Government by fresh legislation, and the alterations suggested in the law, are wise and necessary. In my opinion, the Government are greatly to be congratulated on the admirable suggestions which are contained in this White Paper.

I should like to mention to the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, that, as I read the White Paper, power will be given under a clause on page 13 to the Minister of Health to make orders in various areas which will result in the Minister having power to deal with any question of abstraction of underground water, as well as other waters. That will tend to meet the very serious danger to which the noble Earl has referred, and in particular the fact that the underground level of water both in London and in many parts of the country has been steadily sinking for perhaps a century, and possibly a great deal longer. In my view that is one of the most important things in this White Paper.

I want to deal for a few minutes only, if I may, with the question of rural water supplies. I am well aware that the matter is a most troublesome one. I made some inquiries about it from various water engineers, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will be glad to hear that I am told on all sides that the Central Advisory Water Committee know all about it and contain people who are the greatest experts on this matter. If, therefore, I say anything or make any suggestions about it, it will not be because I think that I can advise that body but because I think it is desirable that everybody should know the precise position at the present time in relation to a great many unfortunate people in rural districts, and what really should be done as far as possible without delay. It is stated hi the White Paper, and I think most people know, that a great deal of work was done under the Act of 1934, which I think reduced the number of persons not served by a piped supply to 30 per cent. of the population contained in rural areas. The White Paper does not tell us how many those people are who still have no piped supply, but in June, 1938, it was stated on behalf of the Government—the statement is contained in the Official Report—that there were still, at that date, 3,571 parishes in England and 310 in Wales without piped supply.

The position was explained with regard to a single county, the county of Cornwall, in a debate in the other place on December 7 of last year, and perhaps I may be allowed to mention that Mrs. Wright, of whom I have no personal knowledge, made in that place a most admirable speech, pointing out the position in her constituency, Bodmin. If I may be allowed to mention it I will do so, because it seems to me a very good example of what may now be happening in a number of counties in England and Wales as well as in the county of Cornwall. Things are just as bad in the counties of Devon, Hereford and Norfolk. Mrs. Wright said that out of 177 parishes in Cornwall just upon 100—well over half —were without piped supplies. She added an account of what was happening in consequence and how these people, when there was a drought, had to pay sixpence a bucket for water. She added this, in very forceful tones: While we discuss, debate, and set up Committees and Royal Commissions … the women in my constituency are carrying heavy buckets of water up and down hills, sometimes for a distance of a mile and a half. I have seen the same thing in Sussex and elsewhere, and I think it is one of the most painful sights in the countryside to see working men and women after a long day's toil walking along—you may almost say staggering along—carrying buckets of water. That is the only water supply they have after a tub which accumulates a certain amount of water from the roof has been exhausted.

What I want to urge upon the Government is that so far as possible, while the main scheme of water supply adumbrated in the White Paper is being carried out—which may take ten years in certain cases to put into operation and in some cases much longer—something temporary should be done to help these unfortunate people. I want to point out, in an endeavour to put before your Lordships the whole position, the great difficulty that exists with regard to outlying parishes, hamlets, cottages and farms. Parishes in this country vary in size from 1000 to 2,000 acres and the produce of the local rate, especially since the derating of agricultural land, is often almost nothing at all. The White Paper rather suggests that something must be put on the rates, but in many cases you will not be able to put: anything substantial on the rates at all. I will give two instances, both instances of schemes on which reports were made, and where there were plans for supplying the parishes with water. One of them was a parish of 2,000 acres with a population of 182. Before the war the estimated cost of a piped supply to 36 houses—about half the houses in the district—was £1,500. The pipes had to be brought for two and three-quarter miles. The water rate would bring in, it was calculated, £50 per annum, and a penny rate produced £2 per year. Of course the scheme was abandoned. I could give a number of such instances, but I will give only one more, a parish of 1,800 acres with a population of 212. The estimated cost there was £1,450. Pipes had to be brought for two miles. The water rate in that case would have brought in £18 a year and a penny rate produced £3.

With cases like that you can well understand that it is going to take centuries before you get a piped supply, unless some -very exceptional circumstances arise in which, say, a main passes through the district, which can be tapped. But there are a number of cases of that kind and I think two observations should be made with regard to the matter. First is the serious and unfortunate fact, as I am told from inquiries I have made, that the cost of pipes since the war, like the cost of almost everything else of that character, has been doubled, so that these figures of costs I have given will have to be very largely increased. The other point is this. If it is thought to be necessary, as the White Paper rather suggests, to provide water in such quantities that baths and w.c's can be supplied to the houses, then there must be sewerage and methods of sewage disposal. Then the cost will be multiplied by ten, and the whole things becomes absolutely impossible.

What do you intend to do to help these unfortunate rural cases? As I have already pointed out, the factor of time is very important, and these people do not want to be made to wait ten or twenty years while something is done. I do not believe that it is necessary to provide them with all the amenities of water supply, such as we have in towns. They are not accustomed to them. Their main desideratum is that they should not have to carry buckets of water along the roads at the end of a hard day. After all, anybody who knows anything about it knows that, pleasant as it is to have the daily bath, it really is not necessary for purposes of health. Many of the lads who come back from Africa have not had a bath, as they will tell you, for three months, and they will tell you they are none the worse. But it is perfectly plain that a bath is very largely a luxury, and a w.c., as the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, has pointed out, really is not necessary in many of these rural places at all. I was very glad to hear what Lord Portsmouth said. So far as my knowledge goes, I thought all he said was perfectly accurate. I was only rather sorry that he did not tell us something about the practice which he adopted at his Hampshire estate. There is no secret about it because it has been put in a book called England's Water Problem, published by the Country Life office in 1939, that is, just before the war. I cannot help thinking that there is a great deal to be learnt from the noble Earl which he has not yet thought fit to tell this House.

May I remind your Lordships of the average consumption of water by various people in this country? If people rely on buckets, as they do in the parishes I have mentioned, the consumption is between 4 and 5 gallons per person per diem; if you give them a single tap in their house or just outside their door the consumption rises to 10 gallons; if they have a w.c. it may rise to 20 gallons per person per diem; and if you give them a daily bath they will consume from 30 to 40 gallons per person per diem. If you give them unlimited water, as they do in parts of America, people consume as much as 100 gallons per person per diem. Of course, that is enormous. But I will leave that out, and only say that the amount of water used by people who have to fetch their water in a bucket or to get it from a well in their garden rises from 5 gallons to 30 or 40 gallons if they have baths and w.c's.

I plead with the Government to take into account the smaller needs of people who are in such a situation that they are not likely to get water in large quantities supplied to them for a number of years. I should, of course, welcome a full supply, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, to every house, and I hope that will eventually be achieved; but, in the meantime, is it not possible in the survey which is to be made of the country to deal with the cases where a sufficiently adequate supply of, say, eight or ten gallons per person can be afforded with a very small expenditure, by simply tapping a well or a spring somewhere, taking it in a small pipe along the road, and putting a pipe and a tap outside the house or outside the little hamlet suffering this enormous inconvenience of having to fetch water? Their main grievance is the entire lack of water in their houses and their having to fetch it. I am perfectly sure they would be overjoyed if the moderate measure I have mentioned could be given in cases where it is found it will never pay to bring a large supply many miles across country to some outlying house or farm.

Farms, of course, raise a somewhat different problem. It is true that the amount of water they want is very much greater than the amount which ordinary people want. I do not quite know what estimate the Government have got. It is said that cows need forty or fifty gallons a day for drinking purposes alone in the summer months, but very much more than that is needed for washing, cooling, and other purposes of husbandry in a dairy farm. That, of course, presents a somewhat peculiar case, but I imagine something can be done even for farms in this country not supplied by a tap. A good many farms—I once had one myself—can be supplied from ponds in the neighbourhood which, with a certain amount of care, give sufficiently good water for ordinary cows who are not very particular if the water looks all right.

That is what I urge the Government to consider, and there is only one other thing I want to say. It is a comment upon a passage in the White Paper which says that in future it is intended that there should not be a separate water rate, but that the cost of water supply should be charged on the general rate. What are you going to do with regard to people whom you will not, or cannot, supply with Water and who live in that rateable district? Are you going to make them pay the larger rate due to the fact that it will include the water rate, although you either cannot or will not supply them, with water? I cannot think that that can be just; I am sure it is not just. I cannot think that the Government will not be able to deal with that little difficulty, which only involves this, that those who are not supplied with water by the Government should have a rebate on their rates. For my part, I feel rather strongly on the matter, although people with big houses are not the people I am thinking about here, but people with little tiny cottages. I know very well what it costs to supp y oneself with water, to sink and equip a deep well, to provide the pumping arrangements and all the rest of it. Then to be told, after you have expended all that money yourself, that you have also to pay a water rate, that the local authority do not intend to give you any water— one would be inclined to go up into the air, and say "Has anyone ever heard of anything so unjust?" I do not believe that the Government intend that, and I conclude by saying that I entirely agree with the encomiums which have been passed on this White Paper and wish the Government God-speed with it.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Wool ton, replies, I just want to ask your Lordships to note what Lord Maugham has said because he gave some extraordinarily interesting figures to which all of us who live in tie country, as most of us do, must have listened with great attention. I hope the noble Viscount can verify these figures which I wrote down. I ask the question because, again and again in your Lordships' House, I have raised this question of bringing water to rural villages and said, as I say again, that it is sad and mad and bad to give the people in the villages electricity which they could do without and not give them water which they cannot do without. These are the figures which Lord Maugham gave, and which I ask him through your Lordships to verify. If there is no private supply in a village, and they have to fetch water, it appears that the inhabitants use, if they can get it, five gallons per head. If there is one tap, they use ten gallons per head. If there is one water closet, they use twenty gallons per head. All these are additional. If there is one bath, they use forty gallons per head. If there is an unlimited supply in England—I do not know that it applies to Great Britain—they use fifty gallons per head, and the figure for the United States of America, unlimited, is 100 gallons per head.


In some places.


Thai is an extra ordinarily interesting thing. I do not know if Lord Woolton, who probably has all these facts and figures at his fingertips, can verify them. It does show how essential it is, if I may respectfully say so now for the fiftieth time since I have inflicted myself on your Lordships, to provide at least some form of water, some form of grid, some added system to conserve the supplies of rainwater or underground water. If it be true, and I assume it is true because Lord Maugham is, of all men, the most accurate—


May I answer the noble Lord? My figures, as I should have stated, are contained in the book of which I gave the complete citation, published just before the war in 1939. I have also checked them by reading some figures which are contained in another work. Although of course they are approximate figures, and one must not take them as being exactly right in every case, I have good reason to think that they are substantially accurate.


Then it stands verified by an ex-Lord Chancellor of England that these figures can be taken as being approximately correct, and that if people will do without their daily bath, perhaps without a water closet, and perhaps without an unlimited supply, the noble Lord can here and now decree that every citizen in this country, even in a rural village, shall have at least some water to keep him in health and comfort.


My Lords, this is not the first time since I had the honour of becoming a member of your Lordships' House I have discovered, whatever the subject of debate, that one is always listening to experts, and I took the precaution over the week-end of finding out how many of your Lordships were likely to be able to give expert views on the subject of this debate. I found that there were, at any rate, nineteen of your Lordships who had the fullest possible right to address the country by reason of their expert knowledge, and the debate to-day has certainly justified that view. Your Lordships have done your best to help to improve the position, because last year you did pass the Water Undertakings Bill which, unfortunately, Parliamentary pressure in another place prevented from being passed into law.

I have two reasons for being grateful on this subject to the noble Lord who has moved the Resolution. I am afraid it is patently obvious to your Lordships that from time to time it is my duty, with very great regret, to ask you to wait just a little, to wait until a time which is sometimes ill-defined, when, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I will present you with a White Paper. I did not like doing it, as I think has always been rather obvious. At the time the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, first raised this issue and put a date to his Motion, His Majesty's Government had not agreed upon their policy regarding this matter and I asked him if he would be good enough to postpone his Motion until a date when I thought I should be able to present, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, some complete statement, and he was good enough to oblige me by doing that. The statement, as your Lordships know, was issued last Friday—as one might say, shortly after Easter.

I was glad that the noble Lord spoke of the work that the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Milne, has done on the subject. He has been Chairman of the Advisory Water Committee and it is on the conclusions of that Committee that this White Paper has been so largely based. Your Lordships may say that it was somewhat overdue. Lord Mottistone has indicated that for a matter of about forty years, or something like that, he has been dealing with the problem, but I discovered, when I came into this new office, that His Majesty's Government have been discussing water supplies for seventy-eight years. When I found myself faced with this problem, I thought that we might, without undue risk and without being considered unduly hasty, come to a conclusion, so I made a recommendation to my colleagues and we have come to a conclusion which I hope, and I believe from the general tone of the debate to-day, has, in a broad measure, met with your Lordships' support.

I do not want to take an undue amount of your Lordships' time this afternoon because it appears to me that both you and I are in danger of getting bored with this subject before we have finished with it. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, has a Motion dealing with this subject as a whole, which will come before this House, and I hope that this Session we shall ask you to consider a Bill which my right honourable friend the Minister of Health will properly introduce in another place since it provides for Exchequer grants. I hope that Bill will then come to your Lordships' House and be passed before the end of this Session. A Bill on the lines of the 1943 Bill which you have already passed, but with its provisions somewhat altered because of the changed circumstances, will be introduced later. I am afraid that that Bill will not be introduced this Session because it does not look as though Parliamentary time in another place will make that possible, but we shall, at any rate, I hope, pass a Bill that will enable us to deal with the immediate problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, has drawn our attention to-day.

I would like to say in defence of His Majesty's Government that we did not produce this White Paper because there was a drought or because there was a threatened drought. The noble Lord, Lord Straholgi, indicated that we did act on the principle: "The devil was sick and the devil a monk would be," but in this instance the proposals were drafted before we knew there was a probability of a drought. On that issue of the drought, I am urged by my right honourable friend in another place to take this opportunity of urging upon the country that these should be the greatest possible economy in the use of water at the present time. This White Paper is not a palliative to deal with an immediate situation. It is a part of the general reconstruction programme which, bit by bit, I hope we shall be able to put before your Lordships and the country.


This will be one of the first bits, will it not?


The first bit I think was the Education Bill, the second was the White Paper on Health Services, then we have this Paper on water, which obviously is associated with health services on the one hand and with housing on the other.


I hope the noble Lord will not forget land legislation.


I can assure the noble Lord we are working quite hard and there is no danger, whilst his Lordship is here, that we shall ever be allowed to forget that important subject, I am glad to say. But it was from the point of view of housing that we first started to deal with this problem because to talk about great new housing schemes, about housing in rural areas, and not to make some provision for adequate supplies of water, would just be ridiculous. A bath in every home is something that we ought to have as an ideal, though I recognize, as the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, and perhaps also the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, have pointed out, that we shall not be able to get that straightaway with all the things that follow as a consequence. Let us keep that as an ideal at any rate and aim at getting this adequate supply of water in spite of all the complexities of the problem that are behind it.

Another thing very much in the minds of His Majesty's Government was the importance of water to agriculture. If we are to have good husbandry we want water, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said so rightly, if we want milk we must have water, though the intimate connexion between the two is not as clear as one might have gathered from what he said. This problem of providing the most adequate supplies of water in a country that has such adequate resources is quite clearly a proper thing in any reconstruction programme. As I say every time I speak on this subject of reconstruction, let us have our hopes and let us have our plans, but I do hope the country does not think it is going to happen to-morrow morning. This is a long-term and deliberate programme, and it cannot begin to happen until after the war, until labour is available and until we have the material resources that then will be available.


But you can legislate.


We can legislate, and so we intend. That is part of the preparation of the plans. I was only anxious not to raise hope in the villages too high, so that people thought they would get water at a great speed. I hope that they will get it quickly because that will mean we are relieved of many other problems.

I do not know whether it is necessary for me to deal with the White Paper in any detail because your Lordships appear to have read it. We tried to make a readable document of the White Paper and it has been very gratifying to His Majesty's Government that it has received a wide measure of support riot only in your Lordships' House but in the Press. Quite simply we are aiming a t getting a national plan for water. I think our ideas are practical, and I think it should be said to the credit of the Coalition Government that, although this subject is one on which political Parties in the past have had very diverse views, we have been abler to agree on this very practical plan which will create a national authority and give to the Minister all the authority that he can need to secure that the proposals are carried out. I observe that some of your Lordships have doubts whether the Ministry of Health is the right authority to deal with this problem. I think the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, said it had a bad record, but that anyhow it was very busy. But you do not necessarily create better organization by having new organization. The success of any office depends upon the vigour of the Minister and the capacity of the Civil Service. His Majesty's Civil Service is at the present time very strained. It has covered a very wide range of new Ministries, and after all, whilst people criticize it very severely and whilst undoubtedly mistakes are being made, as they are in all walks of life, we are getting on fairly well and the country, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated yesterday, seems to be holding up its end very well.

I hope your Lordships will not press for a new Ministry to take charge of these special departments. It is better for us to improve the existing Ministries if they need improving and always they will be improving. I do not blame the officials of the Ministry of Health for the fact that we have not had a better water supply in the past. It is the fault of Parliament that its members have not pressed sufficiently hard for what they want, and let us put responsibility quite squarely on those democratic shoulders. I can assure your Lordships that my right honourable friend who is at present in office at the Ministry of Health is whole-heartedly behind this scheme. He intends to make it work. He has asked for powers and I hope that when the time comes—indeed I am sure—you will give him all the powers that he asks for.

One of your Lordships asked me whether these regional committees would have statutory powers given them. What we propose is that the Central Advisory Committee, which now advises only, shall have statutory power and shall not only advise but shall initiate—an important distinction—and that the committees we are going to set up for the purpose of getting information shall have the power to call for information so that they no longer have to depend on the good will either of local authorities or private companies for the supply of information which they consider necessary. There is one thing which I think will please the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh. We are contemplating in this programme complete co-operation between agriculture, transport, town and country planning and trade. I think that we shall do something in that way towards getting for water supply at any rate that national planning about which the noble Lord has spoken to us on previous occasions.

I do not want to take up more of your Lordships' time. I note and concur with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on the subject of river pollution and I most heartily agree with what he said on the subject of anglers. We do not need to spoil our rivers in order to have trade. Science has long since enabled us to overcome these difficulties. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, who in this as in so many other things concerning the land, has rendered so much service to the country, wondered whether we were going to run an experiment which would cause us to get a water supply from one place at the expense of another. That is what is happening now as the result of the entirely unplanned arrangements whereby people are taking water. We are now robbing Peter to pay Paul, but we have no intention of running some experimental scheme. The plan will be a plan for the country as a whole. I am sure my colleagues will be gratified that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, finds our proposals satisfactory, because he indeed speaks with great authority. There is no doubt about the law needing amendment here. It is a jumbled, confused, time-wasting and expensive process, and I hope the proposals we shall subsequently put before your Lordships will meet with your approval and will enable us to save much of that time.

Five per cent. of the total population of this country is without piped water supply. That does not sound very much. But thirty per cent. of the population living in rural areas is without it. That seems to me to be a very great deal, and it provides a problem that we are determined to tackle and tackle immediately. I sympathize very much with what the noble and learned Viscount said on the subject of having to pay a water rate and not getting the water. I am in that position when I am in the country, and therefore I have the keenest possible sympathy with what the noble and learned Viscount said. But that is a matter for adjustment. We must not let difficulties of that nature stand in the way. And they do not need to stand in the way. The cost of this plan cannot be left to the parish because the parish cannot afford it, and if it is left to the parish it will not be done. Therefore, we propose to take a wider area for the distribution of costs, that wider area including the Exchequer as well as the county authorities. I am not quite clear as to the rightness of mentioning money in your Lordships' House.


Mention it as much as you like.


I can tell your Lordships that the Exchequer has agreed that we shall spend a sum of £21,325,000 or something like that, on this plan. That is a vast sum of money, and if a million pounds previously spent produced between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 worth of work, then with this big bite that we have taken at this thing it seems to me that we ought to be able to deal with the problem in a reasonable time.

I hope that I have dealt generally with the matters raised in the debate. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, that the statutory powers to which he refers will mean something, and I can assure your Lordships that in preparing this White Paper we have had quite clearly in our minds that we were putting before the country proposals which we were prepared to alter according to the ways in which Parliamentary debate went. There must, indeed, always be in these things many matters which occur to other people that we have not thought about. We are, therefore, prepared to make alterations if here and in another place it is thought necessary. But the broad principles of the White Paper stand. I feel that they have met with your approval. I hope you will regard them as a very deliberate and far-reaching attempt to meet one of the problems that faces us under the heading of reconstruction, and that when the time comes your Lordships will be able to give my right honourable friend, who with his Department has done so much work on this problem, the powers for which he asks.


My Lords, in asking your leave to withdraw my Motion I would just like to say one thing. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has told us that we must not expect to see great schemes started immediately the war is over. That undoubtedly is very wise. But I would urge that what can be done should be pressed on with as soon as possible. One of the first things that I suggest should be done is to make a really complete survey of the available water supplies of the country. There are many small undertakings now serving areas in which people who live at the end of the pipe-line or on high ground very often get no water at all. Those undertakings want better reservoir facilities and their supplies of water made adequate. That is a problem which I suggest can be dealt with to a great extent immediately after the war, and I hope that it will be done long before many pipes are laid. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn