§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA AND BURMA (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, the Bill which I invite your Lordships to consider this afternoon has already travelled through another place and reaches your Lordships' House substantially in the form in which it was introduced. I think I can rightly say that this, measure is a further indication of the reconstruction plans which His Majesty's Government are preparing or have prepared but it cannot, of course, 610 come into operation until after the end of the war. The Bill covers both the provision of piped water in rural areas and the extension of sewerage facilities which are consequential upon the greatly increased use of water. Your Lordships will have noticed that this Bill comes before Parliament in advance of the main Bill which it is the Government's intention to introduce, but the passage of this measure will, of course, leave your Lordships perfectly free to debate the future Bill, with the assurance that the provision of facilities for piped water in rural areas after the war has been specially provided for.
The principal object of this measure is to enable my right honourable friend the Minister of Health to make financial contributions in England and Wales for the provision of water supply and sewerage in rural areas. Although as I have just stated the works cannot be started until the end of hostilities in Europe, there will be nothing to stop local authorities from beginning now to formulate their plans as far as their staffs allow and they will have the assurance that they need not be deterred by any feeling that they cannot afford it. Indeed it is one of the principal objects of the Bill that local authorities should begin to prepare now. I think it is only right and proper that I should remind your Lordships, if reminder is necessary, that all measures passed by Parliament for reconstruction purposes cost money and in our effort to abolish the parish pump—or perhaps I should say to prime the parish pump—we are authorizing my right honourable friend to spend a sum of £15,000,000 in England and Wales. But that sum only accounts for the expenditure which will be borne by the Exchequer, for under the second clause of the Bill county councils will be called upon to make contributions towards the expenses of any scheme in cases where a promise of financial assistance has been given by my right honourable friend. The expenditure entailed under that head will naturally fall upon the county ratepayers.
But it should not be thought that by making that remark I am in any way bemoaning the expenditure of money for this scheme, for, on the contrary, any noble Lord who is acquainted with rural areas will appreciate the urgent necessity in many cases—and I need not deal with any of them now—for the provision of 611 piped water in particular areas and particular localities. Of course, the starting point of expenditure will be borne by the authority upon whom the statutory duty of providing water rests, and the consumers will bear their share of water charges. Any assistance or grant will be assessed upon the financial position of the authority and upon the merits of the scheme. It will be seen therefore that His Majesty's Government will assist by grants in aid to rural authorities who would otherwise be faced with the cost of extensions of piped water and sewerage well beyond what the ratepayers and the consumers could reasonably be expected to bear. Every encouragement will be given to local authorities to plan their extensions of mains so as to fit in with the needs of agriculture so far as is practicable, and my right honourable friend intends to maintain close contact with the Ministry of Agriculture who are extending their own schemes for the provision of water for land, farms and farm buildings.
Perhaps I might now turn to deal with one or two clauses in the Bill. I have probably explained adequately the purpose and intention of the first two clauses. Clause 3 places a more definite and extended obligation upon local authorities and joint boards as regards the provision of water supplies. The House will notice that it does not enlarge their powers because my right honourable friend does not think that that is required. Clause 5 of the Bill will have effect in rural areas, where the local authority does not itself supply water but where there is a statutory water authority operating under a local Act which incorporates Section thirty-five of the Waterworks Clauses Act of 1847 or some modification of it. Under that Act, owners and occupiers can in such cases demand a supply of water for domestic purposes from the undertaker if the aggregate amount of the annual water rates payable in respect of their premises is not less than a prescribed fraction of the expense of providing and laying the necessary mains, and further, if they agree with the undertakers to take a supply of water for not less than a period of three years. Subsection (2) of Clause 5 places an obligation upon water undertakers to accept a guarantee of sufficient income if given by a local authority, who therefore step into the position which 612 was formerly occupied by the owners and occupiers. At present, the local authority can give this guarantee, but, in point of fact, the undertaker is not bound in any way to accept it. I think the House will agree that subsection (2) of Clause 5 fills a very obvious gap.
The only other clause to which I would invite your Lordships' attention is Clause 7, which applies this measure to Scotland with certain modifications. Noble Lords will observe that the Secretary of State for Scotland is authorized under that clause to spend a sum of £6,375,000 for practically the same purposes for which my right honourable friend the Minister of Health is authorized to spend money in this country. With those few introductory remarks I cordially commend this Bill to your Lordships, and move that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Earl of Munster.)
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I would say that we cordially support the Bill which the noble Earl has introduced. At the same time we recognize, as I should think that he does, that in the long run this measure will not be adequate to meet the full needs of rural England. Notwithstanding that, it will be a most valuable contribution towards meeting those needs, which are exceedingly urgent in some districts. There are two or three comments which are material and should be made. It has become especially manifest during the war, owing to the increased consumption of milk, which we all sincerely hope will continue and even increase, that in a good many rural areas there is a considerable deficiency in the supply of water to farms. Large numbers of schemes have been helped during the war by the Ministry, but they represent only a small fraction of the cases which require adequate supplies of water.
I am a little disappointed, therefore, that these provisions have not been "married up" with the proposals of the Ministry of Agriculture, which we are promised in a separate measure. So far as this Bill goes, it places a duty on the local authorities In this respect I think that what the noble Earl said requires a little amendment. This Bill enlarges the scope of their duties, but I do not think that it enlarges their powers. It imposes 613 the duty on every rural authority to provide pipes affording a supply of water to such points as will enable houses or schools to be connected thereto at a reasonable cost. That is a very important and welcome extension of the duties of those authorities, but I hope that your Lordships will take note of the fact that we shall look for a considerable drive in the administration of this Bill if it is to be made as efficient and useful as we should all like it to be, because these words are qualified by the conditions that such schemes must be practicable and such as can be carried out at a reasonable cost.
Everything will turn on what is meant by "practicable" and by "a reasonable cost." I myself have first-hand experience of orders made in war-time which are qualified by the term "reasonable." We stand in constant apprehension of the interpretation which the Department which the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, represents in this House will place upon the word "reasonable," because it depends on how much a thing is going to cost, what it is going to be made of, how urgently it is required and all sorts of other considerations. You have to ask yourself a large number of questions, with some apprehension, before being bold enough to put a scheme forward to the Department for approval. The word "reasonable" is a very elastic term. What I think that we ought to recognize is that according to the very valuable White Paper, A National Water Policy, which was presented to Parliament some time ago, fifteen times as much water is available as the community requires. The Lord sends an abundance of rain in some parts of this country, and there is fifteen times as much water available as will be needed for industrial and domestic purposes.
I should like the word "reasonable" to be understood to mean that water shall be supplied to groups of houses or villages unless there is some very substantial reason to the contrary. Every village and every school and every group of houses should have an adequate water supply, and I do not want the supply of water to them to be qualified by such expressions as "practicable" or "reasonable," which might, and I am afraid will, in many cases curtail the activities of the local authorities. I can quite appreciate 614 some apostles of economy on local authorities making great play with the word "reasonable," and raising all manner of objections to any sort of scheme, however urgently it might be required. Therefore, while I know that we shall not seek to remove these words, and while I am very doubtful of my ability to suggest offhand a better formula, we ought to understand that every village, every collection of houses, every school and every farm which needs a water supply ought to have an adequate supply. There is plenty of water; it is only a question of making adequate arrangements to see that it is supplied.
I do not wish to underrate what is being suggested here, but I hope your Lordships will not be content to think that £15,000,000 will meet the bill. Nothing of the sort. If we were to add another nought at the end it might be within measurable distance of what the country needs, but certainly £15,000,000 is not enough. Moreover, I should like the noble Earl to tell us how this scheme fits in with the very courageous and farsighted proposals which are set out in this excellent White Paper, A National Water Policy. We are there told, and very truly, about many of the existing difficulties—the multiplicity of authorities, the gaps between authorities, leaving districts with inadequate supplies, the overlapping of authorities, the imperfect powers of the Ministry or other governing authorities, and the many other obstacles to the achievement of a proper national policy. I am a little apprehensive that in the development of this proposal it will be made more difficult for the Minister to bring about that amalgamation of areas and amalgamation of supply which the White Paper tells us, and obviously with truth, are urgently required; because, as this plan develops, the different authorities will enlarge their schemes and will each have an increased vested interest and pride in their own scheme, and it will be more difficult than before, I think, to bring about that amalgamation and unification of authority which the White Paper tells us will be required. To that extent I am afraid that, unless it is very skilfully administered, this Bill may perhaps intensify those difficulties in the course of time.
It all depends on how long we have to wait before this much more ambitious project is put into definite shape. There 615 was an excellent discussion in your Lordships' House some time ago, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, which unfortunately I was not able to attend, and which dealt with this scheme. I should like to say that I am sure that it is worthy of much more consideration than it has hitherto received. Finally, may I emphasize the urgency of extending this scheme for the benefit of agriculture? All that the authority does in the Bill is to bring the water to a point and then the inhabitants or owners of the houses or schools or whatever it may be in the vicinity will, of course, have to pay the costs of putting in the supply to the premises. I am not very satisfied with that, because we know that in many of these country areas the cost of laying a pipe or pipes across fields or along country lanes is sometimes quite prohibitive. That difficulty will surely have to be met, because we cannot expect isolated groups of buildings, often half a mile away in fields, which may be farms producing a large quantity of milk and urgently requiring supplies of water, to be able to bear the cost of taking the pipes a great distance along those roads or across those fields. That difficulty, I should hope, will be met when we see the proposals of the Minister of Agriculture, but until it is met we shall not be able to assure the people of this country of those adequate supplies of milk which are so exceedingly necessary. Nevertheless, I know that this particular difficulty is in the mind of the Ministry and I hope that the forthcoming proposals will provide for it. Meanwhile we are glad to support the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I am a warm supporter of this Bill personally, because I live in a district in Sussex where the actual difficulty has arisen which this Bill is designed to meet. We have a rather scattered population with no general supply of water but each of the houses or cottages is supplied by a small well, never a very deep well, and often, I should imagine, a purely surface well. That is a situation which I am quite certain from every point of view is as bad as it can be. The actual danger to health is considerable, because surface wells are always subject to contamination of some kind or another. But, quite apart from that, there is the great want of water which from time to time takes 616 place and, as your Lordships know, has been very acute in the earlier part of this year. I feel very strongly that a simple measure like this to meet that immediate difficulty is essential. Indeed, I rise mainly for the purpose of urging the Government not to allow that essential object of their policy to be postponed by the consideration of anything else. It is quite true that this Bill is confined entirely to water supply and sewerage, and in the White Paper which accompanies the Bill there is what my noble friend Lord Addison has been referring to—the larger policy for a general survey of water. I do not want to say a word against that: that may be a very admirable plan. I observe the very considerable amount of machinery which is contemplated—a central board, central advisory boards and regional advisory boards, research boards, water surveys, and so on. That, I dare say, is quite necessary for the larger policy, but it fills me with a little anxiety lest these designs should be allowed to precede the meeting of the really urgent need of supplying the rural parishes with water. And that seems to me to be the most dangerous thing that could take place.
In that connexion I notice what seems to me to be one small omission from this Bill. The Bill is designed to leave the initiative in the hands of the local authority. I think that is quite right and wise. But then in Clause 3, which would seem to be a very important clause, there is a provision regarding what the local authority are to do. They are to provide a piped supply of wholesome water, and they are to bring the pipes sufficiently near to the consumers to enable them to use the water. That is all quite right and very proper. Then it goes on with a proposal, which personally I very much welcome, to give to the Ministry of Health the power to see that these objects are carried out; and it they are not carried out then to have an inquiry into the subject and make an order if necessary for the local authority to do them. Looking at it from the point of view of the water consumer, as far as I am concerned that is quite right. But there is nothing about delay. What is contemplated is a refusal or an omission by the local authority to carry out their duties under the Bill. I should be very glad if the Government could see their way to put three or four words into 617 that clause to make it also the duty of of the local authority to do all these things "as soon as practicable." Then there would still be an appeal to the Minister if there was anything like a delay.
I do not want to say a word in criticism of the local authorities. They have got difficult jobs to do, and they do them on the whole very well. But at the same time, like all deliberative bodies, they are subject to individuals whose one object is to prevent something being done. With a large policy on the horizon it seems to me that there is a very great possibility of delay or what, in some departments of the Legislature of this country, might perhaps be called obstruction, thereby preventing this very wholesome and admirable project being put into force. If some such words as I suggest could be inserted, then it would be always possible to go to the Ministry if there was anything in the nature of obstruction, and to say, "Well, these people may say that they are going to do their duty, but they are not doing it, and we ask you to take action to see that they do do their duty."
I really do not desire to say anything more about this Bill. I think this is a very important matter. The condition of the rural water supplies is a great scandal at this moment, particularly in view of our experience of the enormous benefit to the health of the community that a good water supply affords. In the White Paper it is pointed out that water-borne diseases have almost ceased to exist in the great towns because of the excellent water supply. Things like cholera and typhoid, instead of being a very great danger to human life and happiness, have become almost negligible. There is no such safeguard in the rural parishes. The time is overdue when that ought to be corrected, and I personally hope that this Bill will be passed with the greatest rapidity and the greatest energy.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I must apologize for addressing the House on this most important Bill without having listened—through circumstances beyond my control—to the speech of the noble Earl who introduced it on behalf of the Government. I warmly welcome the Bill but, if I may say so, with an inquiring mind. It is obviously the first instalment 618 of a much larger scheme which is foreshadowed in the White Paper, about which we had a short discussion a month ago. We are told that the water falling from the clouds and collecting in our springs and water courses is more than adequate to provide all the requirements of town and country, including apparently not merely water for drinking purposes and for sewage disposal but for all the amenities which we as an up-to-date civilized community now enjoy. But, speaking quite frankly and speaking as a countryman, I think it cannot be denied that the towns have in the past profited at the expense of the countryside and its inhabitants in this matter of water supply, as indeed in many other matters.
In many rural areas, thanks to the domestic amenities that urban communities enjoy in their catchment areas, you have the strange paradox of water-logged land with a very urgent and increasing requirement of drainage and, at the same time, water-starved villages. I hope this Bill may do something to end that strange paradox. In passing, I should like to say, as regards the pollution of the water courses, rivers and streams, it is surely the national love of angling, and the pressure exercised from time to time to keep our rivers and streams as pure as possible for the sake of the fish, that has been largely responsible for our enjoyment in the rural areas of the country of as pure a water supply as we have at the present time.
I want to put to the noble Earl certain questions of which I have given him previous notice. Bearing in mind that, admittedly, we are dealing here in piecemeal fashion with what is going to be a very large national scheme of water supply, I should like to ask whether there should not be a complete national, or at least regional survey of water supplies and water requirements before the needs of particular localities are catered for. Failing that, should there not be in each catchment area a comprehensive survey, both of essential water requirements and of the sources of water supply and their average normal gallonage of water, before either private persons or the local sanitary authority can put in hand the execution of any scheme for supplying the local community, as for instance a particular village, with water? Thirdly, if the water is to be used for sewerage purposes, the supply, I submit, must be sufficient to 619 enable water closets to replace earth closets in every dwelling-house in the area unless—and it is a big and important proviso—an efficient septic system of sewage disposal is substituted and approved by the Minister.
I am rather inquisitive to know whether, as provided by this Bill, a sewerage system ought to be a condition precedent to a supply of water in connexion with the disposal of sewage. I cannot help reminding your Lordships that if there is going to be a large increase of water closets up and down the country—and incidentally as is found by experience, a considerable waste of water in carrying off that sewage—there is going to be a great and increasing lack of very valuable fertilizing material for which no chemical dressings are a complete substitute. If I am right in that—and it is difficult to controvert—ought there not to be a premium put upon septic tank disposal of sewage rather than a premium put upon water closets with their effluents in substitution for earth closets, with the very large quantity of additional water which would be required in order to operate them?
The next point I wish to ask about is this. The county councils come, apparently very inappropriately, into the picture. In the rural areas the local sanitary authority is—in most cases—the rural district council. If the rural district council submit an inadequate or unprepared scheme, of if they do not act under the instructions of the Ministry of Health or its local or regional representatives, apparently the county council come into the picture—whether as a default authority or not is not quite clear from the Bill. What I am going to suggest is that the council of a county and even the councils of several counties, acting as a joint water authority, are not really the best bodies to deal with such a position. After all, neither a county nor a group of counties is conterminous with the catchment area. It is the catchment area, I submit, which should be regarded as the unit for the supply of water within that area and, to some extent, for the disposal of it.
It is not quite clear from the Bill to what extent the river boards, as the successors of the catchment boards, come into the picture as controlling authorities. If they do not, there is going to be very serious overlapping in regard to their 620 particular functions. I think I am right in saying that surface water may not now be tapped in one watershed to be discharged into a catchment area that is fed from another source. But this does not apply to underground sources of supply and if it does not apply to underground sources of supply surely there ought to be some impediment to or restriction upon the competitive boring for water which is going on at the present time in many localities. Largely arising out of the recent drought many local authorities are boring for water and hoping to obtain as a result of that boring at any rate a temporary supply. Surely there ought to be some control of this process, either by the Government or by the county authoririties, if the water is going to be available not merely for the particular village in which such boring takes place or the neighbourhood of such a village but for the benefit of the whole of the region that ought to be fed from that particular supply.
I want to mention only two other matters. Sewage is not, I submit, the only source of water pollution. Oil and mineral grease surely should not he discharged from any premises, whether it be from a factory or a cottage. Those of us who use our eyes are all aware that there is a considerable amount of oil and grease collected to-day on river banks, piers and other structures, thus indicating the large amount of oil and grease that there is in many of our water courses as well as on our coasts. Surely some provision ought to be made for that oil and grease to be intercepted so as not to interfere with a pure water supply.
As for the requirements of cattle, I understand—I do not know whether I am right, and the noble Earl may have mentioned this—that the amount of water reckoned as necessary for each individual human being per day is from thirty to forty gallons. I believe the text books say thirty gallons but the experience of most rural district councils is that forty gallons is a fair consumption per head. I understand that in the United States the consumption per head is sometimes up to one hundred gallons. But, however that may be, the requirements of cattle are obviously much greater than the requirements per human unit if a pure milk supply is to be procured. I want to be quite certain that that is taken fully into account by the framers of this Bill. 621 If it is possible to give an answer—and I do not say it is—what is the estimated per caput consumption of dairy cattle, and are the mains that are laid going to be of sufficient diameter to carry the water that will be required for stock drinking purposes, milk cooling and other purposes upon our dairy farms? If the amount is very considerable, as I suggest in the public interest it should be on dairy farms, what is likely to be the rate charged upon dairy farmers for the supply of water for their cattle? If it is relatively excessive, I should suggest it ought to be on a lower rate than that required for human beings. If not it may in some cases make a dairy holding an uneconomic proposition.
With those words I welcome the Bill, but having presided over a Royal Commission on the Land Drainage of England and Wales, when all these matters were in their inception and under consideration in 1929, I suggest that in carrying into effect the provisions of this Bill we take a long view and be extremely careful that we do not in any way interfere with the larger scheme which may be necessary both for town and country later on.
§ LORD BINGLEY
My Lords, I agree with the general line of criticism that this Bill does not carry out the larger scheme which is envisaged in the White Paper, but I must say that the speech of the noble Viscount who has just sat down fills me with consternation if he really is expecting that we shall wait until the whole of that very elaborate scheme is put into effect before we can get any improvement in a very deficient rural water supply. I think the danger of delay is something that would appal most of us who for so long have been asking for some improvement in this direction. Nor do I quite agree with the criticism of Lord Addison about the inadequacy of the money. It is true that £15,000,000 eventually may not be enough, but after all it will be a beginning. It is something to have got £15,000,000. Some years ago we did not get £1,000,000 and now it is £15,000,000. If the policy is successful and the country is sufficiently pleased it can ask for more and more will be found. At this stage I think it is a little ungenerous to complain that more has not been given immediately. The view I take is that the Government have certainly laid an egg. They must not cackle 622 too loudly about it. While they may cackle a little they must not forget that this is only a beginning. It is of course a useful beginning and those living in rural areas will be very grateful for it. But it is not the end and I only hope the bigger scheme that is envisaged in the White Paper will not be forgotten when once this Bill has been, as I hope it will be, passed through Parliament.
This is only the advance guard of the water policy set out in the White Paper. I am afraid the machinery in the Bill already tends to show that there may be considerable delay in carrying out even this instalment of the water policy. I do not quite like the prospects of delay that exist in the various arrangements that have to be made between the local authorities and the Ministry of Health. I do not like to see everything having to go through that bottleneck of the Ministry of Health, which has already so many other urgent problems to deal with, and which in times past has not been unduly careful about our need for water in rural districts. I am afraid it is going to be a slow process and I should like to see it speeded up. I should like to see at an early stage some delegation of power from the try of Health to regional or local authorities representing various areas. By this means I think something rather more expeditious could be found that would do away with the possibility of constant delay as a consequence of various conflicting authorities coming to the Ministry of Health and going backwards and forwards to the Ministry, which is the process that, it seems to me, is involved in this Bill. I hope therefore the Government will not leave this matter where it is but at the earliest possible moment deal with the present chaos of water undertakings which has been alluded to and which I need not any more stress.
Certainly there are things which can be got on with now. There is very great need for comprehensive maps showing what the possibilities of local supplies may be in various areas. There is also great need, as other noble Lords have suggested, for a continuance of the improvement in the general survey of our water supplies. It is true we cannot deal with this question satisfactorily until we know exactly what we have to deal with. Experts tell us with a light heart that there are ample supplies, but unless you have the supplies properly distributed you will 623 not get the result desired. I should like to see the survey more completely carried out so that we may know more exactly than we do now what the actual possibilities are and what we can do to improve the distribution. There must be of course some control of supplies by the Government; that is obvious; but I do hope that in exercising that control they will remember the advisability of delegating rather more than this Bill does to local areas, because local knowledge is after all the thing that is very necessary in these matters. The thing will have to go through the bottleneck of the Ministry of Health and that means delay, so that I am afraid we shall not for a long time get the supplies needed. It is not fair to complain that we cannot get the full scheme at this moment, because this is war-time and it would involve a very large operation. While I am very grateful to the Government, as I am sure everybody in rural areas will be grateful, for this instalment, I hope the Government will remember that this is only the beginning and that we expect the full measure as soon as they are in a position to carry it through.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
My Lords, like everybody else who has studied the question I am very grateful for this Bill and the observations I am going to make will be chiefly on the lines of approval, with a suggestion or two as to things that can be done. This much must be admitted. This Bill, as I think everybody knows, will not result in every house in rural districts being supplied with tapped water. The proviso to Clause 3 which has been already mentioned shows that quite clearly. The noble Lord who introduced the White Paper here some little time ago gave us an example of what he thought would be unreasonable. He thought it would be unreasonable to supply water by pipe to a house at an expense which was in excess of the cost of the house. That would be the fact in the case of a number of rather remote dwellings, and those of your Lordships who listened to my speech on the last occasion may remember that I gave examples of the cost of a piped supply together with the requisite sewerage which would be occasioned by it. It would run into enormous figures in a district where a penny rate only brings in, we will say, £100 or less a year. Half a loaf is better than no bread, and 624 it is quite clear that we should like this Bill to be at least as successful as the Rural Water Supplies Act, 1934. That Act resulted in the supply of piped water to half the houses in rural districts which were without a proper supply. That has brought a blessing to a large number of people who had had to go bucket carrying, which was the case in hundreds of thousands of houses. If this Bill has the result in a short time of once again halving the number of such people I, for one, shall be very glad because it will mean an increase in the health and happiness of a large number of people.
It must be recognized that this Bill does not touch the position of farms. I gave your Lordships on the last occasion some figures with regard to the cost of supplying water to farms and I will not repeat them, but I would observe that when farms are the subject of compulsory water supply you will have to remember that farming land has been derated. You will therefore have the curious result before your eyes that those who have been clamouring for water will not themselves have to pay additional rates for its supply. That is a very serious consideration and I am not sure that you will be able to impose on the owners of dwelling houses and the like extra rates for supplying water to farms which are going to derive great benefit but are not going to contribute a penny in respect of it. What is passing in my mind is that if farms are to have the really ample supply of water which is required it will be necessary to make them contribute something, perhaps by means of a tap which would make them pay a small sum per thousand gallons supplied.
May I say just a word on a subject which I have enlarged on before and is very closely connected with the happiness of rural people? That is the case of the bucket carrier. All your Lordships must have seen men and women at the end of a long day's work trudging along the road carrying buckets of water taken from some distant stream or spring. When I say distant, three hundred yards is a considerable distance to carry water, but many people have to carry it more than a mile. That I should like to see diminished. What I want the Government to consider is this. When the war comes to an end there will be tens of thousands of motor vehicles in the possession of the Government which they will not be able 625 to get rid of, except as scrap. Could not a scheme be devised by which these motor vehicles, many of them at present in excellent condition, could be used to supply water twice a day by fitting cisterns into the vehicles? Those vehicles could go round the districts like the vehicles which take children to school in remote districts. It would result, in my belief, in enormous benefit at small cost to poor people who may only be able to get water by buckets for, it may be, ten years or it may be, humanly speaking, for ever.
I would like the Government to consider whether help could not be given in that respect. I am not asking for an answer now, but if it can be done I am quite sure a great many people will bless the Government for doing it. Many rural district authorities are exceedingly poor. A penny rate brings in a sum which is almost laughable because it is so small having regard to the fact that a great part of the district is derated. They must have assistance from somebody, but the amount would be small. It is very largely a question of getting somebody to work out a scheme of arranging for the vehicles to be put in order and for pumps to be installed at suitable places. The people in the district, I believe, would he willing to pay some small sum per bucket for the water they receive. I hope that suggestion will be thought worthy of consideration by those in charge of this measure.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bingley said the Government had laid an egg. They have, I am afraid, possibly laid a double yolked egg, certainly a curate's egg, because there are really two Bills within one in the measure we are now considering. If the two had been separate it would have been a great deal easier to deal with this Bill. On many grounds I welcome whole-heatedly the majority of the provisions in the water supply part of the Bill, but I am very doubtful if the urban mind, ignorant of country matters, has not been at work on the sewerage side of it. If we are going to have a water supply system out of the £15,000,000 which have been promised I agree that it should be adequate; but if this expenditure is to include sewerage in difficult areas I believe that the figure would be most inadequate.
It has been admitted, I think, by every noble Lord who has spoken that, although 626 there may be enough water in the country as a whole, we do not as yet, by any means, know the right methods of using it. While undoubtedly we want to get proper water supplies in rural areas as soon as possible, I personally feel that we should be very careful lest we make grave mistakes in over-abstraction before we know where we are. Therefore, I suggest, that riverine abstraction should be the rule rather than the exception for new water undertakings, and that underground extraction should not be resorted to freely until we have ascertained definitely what the extent of our underground supplies really are. This is a matter which needs much research.
The sewerage problem is an extremely difficult one. The remarks of previous speakers in this debate have brought to my mind a picture of out-of-the-way isolated country areas with a few farms and barns tucked away in corners among the wind-swept hills. The trouble is that most rural areas are half urban with just a certain amount of forgotten rural district. Throughout almost the whole of the country that is the case, and this gives rise to some very serious problems which have to be faced. We find in this Bill that the charges and rates for water and sewerage are to be general to the district and not specific charges. That means really that the majority in some suburban corner will be having their rates for water and sewerage largely paid by people whom it will take years for new water and sewerage systems to reach. It it is going to be a general rate, this will be a very serious thing for some rural districts.
I have had some personal experience of this matter. I have seen how it has worked out in areas of the kind to which I refer, and I have gone into it with the clerk of a rural district council which is concerned with an area running from a dormitory area in a big city to a completely rural area. It has been estimated that a highly populated residential area with an existing sewage scheme would have as much as 2s. knocked off its rates while rural areas which could not possibly benefit might have anything up to 1s. or more added. The greater the extension of rural sewage to sparsely populated areas the higher the general rates become and, in addition, the more injustice to ratepayers who still could not benefit. To-day some of our Allies are celebrating 627 a day which was to us not a very happy one in our history—July 4. This is the anniversary of the day, I have always understood, which saw the final outcome of a war about taxation with no representation. It seems to me that we are making the same mistake of taxation and no representation here, on this question of sewerage being paid for by people who cannot possibly benefit in cases where the expenses will undoubtedly be very large. I repeat that to me that seems extremely unjust.
Again with regard to the question of water, a great many people who have put in excellent and adequate water supplies will be asked to pay rates for something that they have provided for themselves; that is to say, for schemes from which they will receive no benefit. That is a small matter, however, and because of the necessity of a proper water supply and because of its universality as a need, I feel that we ought perhaps to give our blessing to the idea that the rate should be general. But, on the other hand, I feel very strongly that the rate for sewerage should be confined to those who are the beneficiaries from a sewerage plan. I hate to have to repeat some of the things which I said in our debate on this subject on April 26, but I feel I must allude to some of the grave dangers attendant upon having sewage schemes put into operation, especially in having schemes which are not connected to forced pressure pump sewage. There is no definition here of what is a suitable sewage scheme. There are points which require very careful consideration before encouragement is given to water sewage. When it is impossible to connect to the main, sealed cesspits or an expensive septic tank system are necessary. Cesspits have to be emptied and incidentally I may say they are almost bound to run over and pollute underground sources of water supply. That also will be a very great danger.
Many people believe that civilization really began with the use of porcelain in these matters. My own view is rather the opposite, that not one person in a hundred who bas not a forced pump sewage system has any idea of the proper use of a water closet. It is generally used for all unwanted household bric-a-brac and practically all the detritus of modern civilization goes down its maw. Wherever cess 628 pits are used there is always danger of unhygienic conditions arising. For my part I would gladly see £500,000 of the £15,000,000 which have been allocated diverted to research for the mass production of a healthy, dry, hygienic system of rural sewage disposal. It would be both convenient and useful and would effect an enormous saving in rates in the future. I am afraid we have promised that this new world, about which we have spoken so much, is going to appear very quickly after the war. It is going to comprise a most complete electricity supply, ideal houses, ideal sewerage, and ideal water supply. People having been taught that, it will be very hard if what we should like to see happen in isolated country districts should have the effect of sending us back and not forward.
I did a few calculations about these costs. I agree with providing water and bathrooms where practicable and reasonable, but individual sewage systems I find very difficult to reconcile myself to, unless there is a good natural drainage system available. It is quite likely that by the time we have built our improved houses, provided the extra cesspits, extra services and so on, the farm labourer whom I am more than glad now has a minimum of 65s. a week, may find himself paying 25s. of that in rates and rent. If that happens he will be in a worse position than he was in before the war, because the cost of living has gone up a great deal. For twenty years I have tried, in practice and otherwise, to work for the betterment of the conditions of the people on whom this country depends and without whom it will perish—the rural craftsmen and the farm workers. I am very frightened that by this means we shall set up a vicious spiral of high expenses, which will in the end result in unemployment and slump and the very situation which we seek to avoid.
Everything that has happened since our last debate tends to confirm not only my own observations but those of nearly every expert with whom I have talked—namely, that underground abstraction has already proceeded far too fast and far too far, and that it has a cumulative effect in dry seasons. We cannot afford to take our average water-levels for calculating what we can abstract; we have to take our drought levels, because, if we do not, the result may be cataclysmic. Whatever form this Bill takes, I hope 629 that the Minister will, above everything else, watch that position to see that it does not get out of hand, because, if it does, there will be no recovery.
§ LORD BRABAZON of TARA
My Lords, I should like to say a word as to the positioning of water-mains and sewers. We have seen recently the complication which exists under our roads to-day. When we have to carry our repairs and alterations, we find a regular macaroni of tubes and pipes of water, sewage, gas, electricity and so on under all our roads. When any repair or alteration has to be made, up domes the road. It is a most expensive way of proceeding, but it is somehow enshrined—I do not know why—in a long tradition which it is hard to break. I tried to break it when I was Minister of Transport, but I found that nothing could be done. In the new districts and the new roads, I hope that all the ancillary services which have previously been put under the road will be put at the side of the road, so that repairs and alterations can be undertaken without dislocating the traffic and wasting money in pulling up the road and putting it back again.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, perhaps you will allow me to reply to some of the questions addressed to me. I cannot complain of the way in which your Lordships have received this Bill, because it has had a general welcome from all sides of the House; but I am bound to say that some noble Lords, and especially my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, asked many questions which are not germane to this Bill, but which will in fact be germane to the bigger Bill which is to follow at a later date. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, in the course of his remarks asked whether my right honourable friend would see that vigorous administration was undertaken to make sure that the local authorities carry out their duties under this Bill. My right honourable friend is fully alive to that need, and will do everything he can to ensure that that vigorous administration does take place as soon as the Bill is passed.
Lord Addison expressed doubt as to whether £15,000,000 was a sufficient sum of money for dealing with this vast problem. We have never maintained that £15,000,000 was sufficient, and as my noble friend Lord Bingley says, the Gov 630 ernment can always come back to Parliament for more. This, however, is not the total figure but only the Government contribution in the form of grants in aid. In addition there will be the sum of money—pound for pound—provided by the county councils, and there will also be the expenditure incurred by the local authorities, who will, moreover, be able to count upon the income received from consumers in the case of water.
With regard to the White Paper, many of the remarks which fell from the noble Lord will, of course, be dealt with in the bigger Bill which is to follow, and I hope that noble Lords will not press me at this stage to give an indication of what will be in that Bill when it is presented. There is undoubtedly every reason why local authorities should plan and prepare at this time, so that as soon as possible after the war these schemes may be put into effect. Personally, I should deeply regret it if this Bill were to be delayed in order that we should make another survey, as was advocated by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe. He will, I know, recognize that my right honourable friend the Minister of Health has a vast mass of information, to which he is constantly adding, which will assist him in examining the schemes which are put to him by the local authorities.
My noble friend Lord Bledisloe raised the question of fertilizers. I understand that this whole question of the use of sewage material is being examined by the Agricultural Research Council in conjunction with the Minister of Agriculture. He also raised the question of pollution. That does not come into this Bill at all, but will be dealt with in the bigger Bill which is to follow. And I should like to say that I am not so pessimistic as the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth. I believe that this Bill will be of great benefit to rural areas. With regard to the question of payment for sewage schemes, I would make it clear that up to 1929 the whole of the expenses of such schemes in rural areas was invariably a charge on the parish rate, and at times meant an extremely heavy burden, amounting to several shillings in the pound for this one service alone. In the case of water, a large part of the cost was borne by the consumers, but whatever part fell on the local rates was, as in the case of sewage, charged to the parish rate. In 1929, the rural district councils were given powers 631 to spread the charges for those services over a far wider area, which in fact they did—namely, over the whole rural district instead of the parish. In this Bill, Clause 6 converts what has become more or less a general practice of rural district councils into an obligation to charge to the district rate all water and sewage expenses which at present fall on local rates. I shall not pursue the matter, but I could argue that housing expenses falling on local rates have, ever since local authorities went in for housing activities on any scale at all, been charged to the district rate and not to the parish rate, and it seems to me that there is no reason whatever why the same principle should not apply in the case of water and sewage.
Finally, I would ask my noble friend Lord Brabazon to let me take the point which he made to the Minister, who will no doubt consider it during the time that these plans are being presented to him by the county councils. I do not think that I need say more on this matter at the present time. It is, as your Lordships know, a highly complicated subject, but this is nevertheless a small Bill, which I think your Lordships would be well advised to pass, for it will be of great benefit to people who live in rural localities.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.