HL Deb 13 July 1944 vol 132 cc897-916

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The LORD STANMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Government contributions towards expenses of local authorities for rural water supplies and sewerage.

(3) Where the expenses incurred by the local authority are expenses in respect of liabilities arising from time to time under a lease or hiring agreement or a contract for the supply of water or for sewage disposal, an undertaking under this section may provide for the making of the contribution in the form of sums payable from time to time, within any period not exceeding twenty years from the date of the undertaking.

In this subsection, the expression "contract for the supply of water" includes any undertaking to make, or guarantee of, payments to a person supplying water given under Section one hundred and twenty-three of the Public Health Act, 1936, or under this Act.

(4) The Minister may withhold, or reduce the amount of, a contribution which he has undertaken to make towards the expenses incurred by a local authority in respect of any works or transaction, if it appears to him either— (a) that any of the works have been executed in an unsatisfactory manner; or

VISCOUNT ELIBANK moved, in subsection (3), to substitute "thirty years" for "twenty years." The noble Viscount said: On behalf of my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch, who, unfortunately, is not able to be here to-day, I have agreed to move the Amendments standing in his name. The first Amendment to leave out "twenty" and insert "thirty" in subsection (3) of Clause 1. If I read the subsection that will explain what my noble friend has in view. The subsection says: Where the expenses incurred by the local authority are expenses in respect of liabilities arising from time to time under a lease or hiring agreement or a contract for the supply of water or for sewage disposal, an undertaking under this section may provide for the making of the contribution in the form of sums payable from time to time, within any period not exceeding twenty years from the date of the undertaking. This Amendment, therefore, would extend to thirty years the time during which the sums would be repayable. The matter has been brought up because the extension of time is urged by the Association of County Councils in Scotland. There are many areas in Scotland which are very sparsely populated and great distances separate populated places. The result is that the ratepayers are often called upon to pay very heavy rates for comparatively small benefits. If the period of twenty years is changed to thirty years it would make matters very much easier for the districts which I describe, and that would apply, to a certain extent, in other cases as well.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 10, leave out ("twenty") and insert ("thirty").—(Viscount Elibank.)


I should like to say a few words in support of this Amendment. In the first place I would remind your Lordships that Scotland is a very much poorer country than England. When we ask for a little more time to pay we are therefore not asking for anything that is unreasonable. We make the request partly because of impoverishment due to the war and partly because of travel difficulties. Those difficulties make it extremely difficult for Scottish Peers to fulfil their statutory duties in your Lordships' House, and for that reason when we make an appeal which is backed up by that extremely live and efficient body the Association of County Councils in Scotland, it is perfectly reasonable to ask the Government to take special note of our position and to endeavour to meet us, if not at this stage of the Bill perhaps at a later stage. Possibly they will at least take it into consideration so far as it affects Scotland.


It is quite true, as mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, that the period of repayment of money borrowed by a local authority for the purpose of carrying out capital works for water or sewerage may be spread over a period of thirty years. But I hope my noble friend will forgive me if I tell him that the argument which he employed is misconceived here. Cases where a loan sanction is involved under this Bill will be dealt with, not under subsection (3), but under subsection (2) which provides for lump sum payments. A grant in the form of a lump sum in such cases instead of annual payments is really, I venture to think, to the advantage of the local authority for it obviously gives them the power to borrow money at a less rate than would otherwise be required. The third subsection, which follows identically the 1934 Act, with the exception of the inclusion of the words "sewage disposal," is intended primarily for cases of the type to which Clause 5 of this Bill refers. In such a case there will be no capital payments, no capital burden on the local authorities but a liability to guarantee an annual payment to the water undertakers. It was thought right in 1934 to legislate for the possibility in such cases of spreading an Exchequer grant over a period of years, but the benefit should obviously be concentrated on the earlier years when the burden in the particular area may be heavier than would normally be expected in the future years.

Under the Act of 1934 there was, in fact, so far as my information goes, only one case of spreading in England and Wales over a period. All other guaranteed cases were dealt by a lump sum payment to the satisfaction of the local authorities. If in cases coming under this subsection (3) the local authority wishes to spread the benefit over more years there is nothing to hinder a local authority from taking a lump sum or, say, a seven years' payment and forming their own fund for spreading the benefit more evenly over a larger number of years. The whole system is based on a temporary grant scheme. There is no intention and never has been of continuing grants towards these services. The noble Viscount will remember that the Exchequer undertakes to find a sum of over £21,000,000 and my right honourable friend does not think that you can have bits and pieces of this grant hanging about indefinitely to be paid perhaps long after the circumstances have changed, so much so that if starting de novo no grant would then be justified. As I have pointed out, the authority can take the grant under subsection (3) and spread it over a period of years by forming a fund for its own purpose. The clause is, I know, complicated, but this subsection (3) does relate to cases of the type referred to in Clause 5 of the Bill, and does not deal with the matter to which the Amendment is directed.


Am I to understand from what my noble friend says that it is at the discretion of the local authority whether a lump sum is taken or a payment spread over a number of years? I understand that if it is a payment it must be spread over twenty years, but it taken in the form of a lump sum the remainder can be spread over thirty years if that is desired.


I think that that is correct, as long as it is clear that the grant in aid which will be received from my right honourable friend will be paid, I do not say in a lump sum but in the course of the period during which the work is being done.


If I understand my noble friend aright, the Government contribution is over twenty years and the local authority can apply it over thirty years. It is a question of amortization. Is that so?


I think that that is not really correct. Subsection (3) deals primarily with cases where statutory water undertakers accept guarantees from local authorities. There is a limit of twenty years. It is exactly the same clause as that which appears in the Rural Water Supplies Act of 1934, in which twenty years is the limit. There are two different points; one is the Government grant, and the other the agreement which local authorities can make with statutory water undertakers.


In view of the explanation given by my noble friend, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH moved to add to subsection (4): or (d) that the new water supply has been, or will Is, taken from underground sources. The noble Earl said: The Committee will remember that in the previous debates, not only on the Second Reading of this Bill but on rural water supplies generally, considerable anxiety was expressed about the danger of continuous over-abstraction of underground supplies. This Amendment is designed not in any way to tie the Minister's hand but, on the contrary, to make it possible for him with greater ease to withhold a grant or to scale his grant in favour of new water undertakings which will take their water from riverine sources or from impounded headwaters, rather than from underground sources, where there is the slightest question of abstraction from underground sources being a danger to the whole ecology of the countryside.

The situation is very serious in some counties. I have had the assistance of the good offices of the various technical officers of my own war agricultural committee in Hampshire in reporting what is taking place throughout the county, and I should like to give the Committee the general picture as it has been reported to our own war agricultural committee. All districts in our county report that the local water shortage is extremely serious. That may, of course, be largely due to the drought; but there is, for instance, on the food production side the fact that one district reports that very extensive watercress beds are now drying up and being ruined, and there is a subnote "acres of desolation." In many parts of the county there is a serious risk that milk production will have to be given up completely because of the failure of ordinary water supplies. In many villages the wells are drying up, as are also farm bores and wells.

I am aware that in many cases this is due merely to drought, but in other cases, where the well-levels come into sub-strata of water-bearing levels which would normally be flowing naturally, these hays been dried up by tremendously increased underground abstraction. Three public water supplies, upon which the supply of three small towns and some large villages depends, as well as farmland, note drops in their deep bores of 140 feet to 119 feet, 15 feet 6 inches to 11 feet 6 inches, and 253 feet to 239 feet, in recent years. There is a very grave danger not only that these bores may ultimately cease to run but that in the meantime, through drying up, they may cave in, and the districts may be left completely waterless. There are other instances which have been given to me privately. One bore, 400 feet deep, has normally been able to pump 4,000 gallons an hour for 36 hours without the slightest change of level in the water supply in the bore. From 1939 it has dropped no less than 20 feet, and in the last few months no less than 6 feet. In 1921 and in the very bad drought years in the 'thirties there was no noticeable change of level, and none occurred until the enormous new abstraction for military and other purposes took place in Hampshire quite recently. Only last Monday I had, as a member of the war agricultural committee, to visit a farmer to try to persuade him to keep up his milk supply. The farmer produced the unanswerable argument that in 1939 he had spent £1,000, with the best engineering advice obtainable, in putting in a deep bore which gave him 7,000 gallons at any time he wished to pump it; to-day that has been completely dried out, and again there is no possibility of milk supply from that particular farm.

In these circumstances I think it is of the utmost importance that the Minister should have a discriminatory, power in dealing with grants for water supply, because there will always be the temptation in local authorities to ask for the extension of their existing water supplies, which is exactly what happens at the moment, and if these existing water supplies are extended, with bores from underground sources, then the danger will become very grave and extremely acute. I know we are promised, through the White Paper, that experts are accumulating advice and will be ready to give it, but the temptation will be to give the water supply now and get the advice later. This Amendment will enable the Minister to give grants on a more long-sighted basis whereby you can extract water from the river and purify it rather than extract water from underground sources if there appears to be the slightest danger. Because, though 20,000,000 gallons a day, for instance, for a fairly large catchment area may not appear to be a very large quantity, a river will produce, even in drought times, 300,000,000 gallons a day flow, while from underground sources there is continual abstraction of water from emptying reservoirs without refilling. The water taken from the river does no harm to anybody. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 28, after ("transaction") insert ("or (d) that the new water supply has been, or will be, taken from underground sources").—(Lord Portsmouth.)


I had a suspicion that the noble Earl was basing his arguments upon the conservation of underground water sources generally. If that is so, as I think it is, let me say at once that this Bill does not deal with that matter at all, but the next Bill—the big Bill which is promised—will be dealing with that particular question and the noble Earl's arguments will undoubtedly be very relevant then. But as he has moved this Amendment and explained that it is intended to enable the Minister to withhold or reduce the amount of his grant-in-aid contribution to the local authority who intended to provide or improve a water supply, or even augment their existing sources of supply, by abstracting additional quantities of water from existing underground sources, let me try to give my noble friend an indication of what would happen if this Amendment were accepted.

I have been told that, as the law stands at present, public water undertakings are already subject to control in the abstraction and use of underground water for public supplies. No water undertaker who operates under the Public Health Act can construct any works for taking or intercepting water without the approval of the Minister, and indeed no water undertaker operating under a special Act can abstract water from a source which has not been authorized by Parliament, or extract water in excess of the quantity which has been authorized by that special Act, which, of course, has been through Parliament. It is easy to see that the Amendment would only confer upon the Minister a discretionary power which he or Parliament can already exercise far more effectively by a complete and absolute veto, if the case should warrant it.

Let me make this one other point, which I think the noble Earl has perhaps forgotten. The scheme which is made by the local authority would be put to my right honourable friend. He would consider it, and take into account all the relevant facts. If the scheme will not work because the underground water supply will run out then the local authority will have to think again. My tight honourable friend will have the advantage, when these plans are put to him, of appreciating very early what other places are supplied with water from the particular sources which that local authority might intend to use. He would then be in the position to say: "You shall not have the grant, because you are threatening your next door neighbour's water." Or, alternatively, he can say to them: "You are threatening your neighbour's water, you must go back and consider this scheme again." The scheme which has been put to him will then return to the local authority who will consider the facts again. I hope the noble Earl will not press this Amendment. As I say, I suspected that it really applied to the conservation of water resources generally. That will come up in the next Bill, and personally I think "sufficient unto the day," and I suggest that the noble Earl should withdraw his Amendment and discuss this particular point when the bigger Bill is presented to your Lordships' House.


In view of what the noble Earl has said, I will withdraw the Amendment, having regard to the wider opportunity that will offer later, but I should like to say that nothing in the working of existing supplies affects the fact that it is practicable to undertake extra abstraction, and once undertakings have got their bore down they can pump twenty-four hours a day without anybody interfering.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3:

Extension of duties of local authorities and joint boards as to water supply.

3.—(1) Every local authority shall provide a supply wholesome water in pipes to every rural locality in their district in which there are houses or schools, and shall take the pipes affording that supply to such point or points as will enable the houses or schools to be connected thereto at a reasonable cost:

Provided that—

  1. (a) this subsection shall not require a local authority to do anything which is not practicable at a reasonable cost; and
  2. (b) if any question arises under this subsection as to whether anything is or is not practicable at a reasonable cost or as to the point or points to which pipes must be carried in order to enable houses or schools to be connected to them at a reasonable cost, the Minister, if requested so to do by the council of the county or by ten or more local government electors in the district of the local authority, shall, after consulting the local authority, and, where the request was made by local government electors, after consulting also the council of the county, if any, determine that question and the local authority shall give effect to his determination.

VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD moved, in subsection (1), after "Every local authority shall provide," to insert "as soon as practicable." The noble Viscount said: This is a very simple Amendment, dealing with a point I raised on the Second Reading. This clause says that it is the duty of the local authority to provide a piped water supply in their district, and the second part of it says that the water supply must be brought in pipes to such a position as will enable the consumers to get it conveniently for their purposes. The clause goes on to say that if there is any question as to whether the local authority are doing their duty under those two provisions, that is to say if they are providing a piped water supply and if they are bringing it to a proper position with regard to the consumers, the question may be decided under the machinery proposed by the Minister of Health. I have nothing to say against that; I approve of it. But there does seem to me to be a gap. I may be wrong; but I should be very glad if my noble friend can explain to me why I am wrong.

This clause provides for certain duties to be done and certain penalties to be incurred if those duties are not done. It contains no provision saying when those duties are to be done. Therefore if an obstructive local authority, or, more probably, an obstructive minority of the authority, do not want to do anything at all they can always say, "Oh, we are going to do it. Don't fuss about it, we shall do it all right in time. We do not refuse at all, but we are not bound to do it under the Act within any lime at all. There is nothing about time in the Act, no suggestion that it has to be done as quickly as it can be done. Therefore we are not in default, and the Minister of Health can do nothing." It seems to me that there is a possible danger—I shall not put it higher—of that happening. I agree very much with what fell from my noble friend Lord Portsmouth as to the urgent need for water in many districts. To put it off for a year or five years or ten years would be a real disaster. All I want to make quite clear on the face of the Act is that if there is any unreasonable delay—delay for which there are no sound reasons—the Minister of Health can say to the local authority that they must go on and do their duty under the Act. That is the whole purpose of my Amendment, and I hope it will not seem to be of a, revolutionary character to my noble friend Lord Munster. I hope he will be able to accept it or, at any rate, effectively explain why it cannot be accepted.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 39, after ("provide") insert ("as soon as practicable").—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)


My noble friend has explained to your Lordships that he is somewhat concerned with the delay which might result from a dilatory or idle local authority who did not bring the water to the neighbourhood as mentioned in Clause 3. If a local authority failed to carry out the obligations imposed upon them by this Bill, there are a number of remedies open to my right honourable friend which he can apply at any time. With your Lordships' permission I might explain what these remedies are. If a question arises as to whether anything is or is not practicable at a reasonable cost under subsection (1) (b) of Clause 3, any ten local government electors can request the Minister to decide the point. If the Minister decides that it is practicable for the local authority to carry out the work at a reasonable cost, then he can give a direction to the local authority under paragraph (b) to perform the work. It is quite obvious that such a direction given by the Minister would be followed up by the Department. Secondly, there is this. Irrespective of any power to determine the question under Clause 3, the Minister has additional powers under Section 322 and the following section as well as other sections of the Public Health Act, 1936, by which he can make and enforce an order declaring the local authority to be in default in carrying out its duties. Its duties will of course include those particularly mentioned in the first subsection of this clause. If the local authority fails to carry out the work specified in the order within the time allowed by the Minister—


Can the Minister allow a time?


Yes, the Minister can certainly allow a time. He can not only make an order, but can direct that within a period of time the work shall be done. If the order is not carried out, then the Minister can ask the county council to do the work or he can do it himself through a contractor, and the expenses incurred in carrying out the work will be charged against the local authority which is in default. I know that my noble friend is nervous that if Clause 3 stands by itself it might be possible for a local authority to defer the question by repeating a promise to do the work or saying, "We shall be better able to do it next year than this year." But Clause 3 does not stand alone. It is a statement of duties which the Minister has before him when he considers any action he can take under Section 322 of the Public Health Act, 1936. There are additional powers which the Minister has under that Act without Clause 3 of this Bill being taken into account. I am told that my right honourable friend can act on the complaint of even one person without having received a complaint from any of the inhabitants at all. He may have an adverse report from one of his own inspectors who has been down and made a survey of the area, and he can act on that. With that guarantee which I have given to my noble friend he will sec—and we are all at one in this—that my right honourable friend does not intend to allow any dilatory methods to be employed by local authorities. I feel quite certain that the powers conferred by this Bill and by the Act of 1936 are quite sufficient to abolish any fears my noble friend may have in his mind.


I cannot pretend to keep in my mind, even if I ever had them there, the provisions of the Act of 1936 or the Act of 1875, or the many other Acts which deal with this question. The Lord Chancellor no doubt has them absolutely at call, but I have not got that comprehensive memory which he has. Therefore I must take my noble friend's assertion that this Amendment is not necessary because the point is already covered by previous legislation. All the same I hope that before the Bill is finally passed the Government will consider whether it would not be a convenient thing to put it in this Bill, which the local authorities will normally consult, that they have got to do these things and to do them in a reasonable time. If that were put before them it would make the Bill a simpler and more workable measure instead of saying you have got to do these things, and as to the time in which they must be done, you must look back to the Act of 1936 and consult this clause and that clause. I was very glad to hear that the Minister can fix a time. That is entirely new to me, and I am much obliged to my noble friend. I did not know the Minister had that power. I hope my noble friend will consider very carefully whether, as a mere matter of practical convenience, it would not be as well to put my words into the Bill. They could not possibly do any harm. The worst that could be said about them would be that they were repeating what was already the law. We all know how urgently these questions come before the local people, and how very hot everybody gets over the question whether there should or should not be a water supply. It my noble friend tells me that there is nothing more that need be done I must submit, lout I hope he will consider the matter carefully.


I am only too glad to give my noble friend that assurance. I shall certainly convey his remarks to my right honourable friend the Minister of Health.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

VISCOUNT ELIBANK moved, in paragraph (b) of subsection (1), to leave out "ten" and insert "twenty-five." The noble Viscount said: Again on behalf of my noble friend the Duke of. Buccleuch, I wish to move this Amendment. This refers to Clause 3 (1) (b). Again, if I read out the short paragraph, it will convey to your Lordships much more clearly what I have in view than if I attempted to explain it: (b) is any question arises under this subsection as to whether anything is or is not practicable at a reasonable cost or as to the point or points to which pipes must be carried in order to enable houses or schools to be connected to them at a reasonable cost, the Minister, if requested so to do by the council of the county or by ten or more local government electors in the district of the local authority shall, after consulting the local authority, and, where the request was made by local government electors, after consulting also the council of the county, if any, determine that question and the local authority shall give effect to his determination. I am again speaking on behalf of the County councils Association of Scotland. They feel that ten is too small a number, and that: ten people may raise perhaps trivial questions of little substance and put the local authority to trouble and expense for something which is not of real importance. It is suggested, and I am moving, that the minimum number who should be empowered to make these representations ought to be twenty-five and not ten. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 6, leave out ("ten") and insert ("twenty-five").—(Viscount Elibank.)


In supporting my noble friend in this Amendment I should like to say that so far as my own country is concerned we are contentious folk and if there is a real grievance I cannot imagine any district where you could not get twenty-five ratepayers to support it. I think ten is too few. The noble Earl, in rejecting the last Amendment, pointed out that the Minister could move upon representation made to him by a single individual, and if the noble Earl is going to reject this Amendment I shall be very interested to hear the terms he will choose for the rejection of it. I will put forward only one other argument in favour of this Amendment and that is that by raising the number from ten to twenty-five ratepayers you are probably going to cut down by at least half the work of the Ministry concerned with this particular question.


The effect of this Amendment and the next Amendment which stands in the name of my noble friend is to raise the number of persons from ten local government electors to twenty-five ratepayers who may request the Minister to determine the question whether the work is practicable at a reasonable cost.


May I intervene for a moment? I have not argued the next Amendment yet. The noble Earl is going beyond the Amendment that I have moved.


I can assure my noble friend I am not. The noble Viscount told your Lordships that this Amendment had been put down at the instance of the Scottish County Councils Association and that their reason for it was that they thought ten local government electors might raise frivolous complaints and that twenty-five ratepayers would be less likely to raise such frivolous complaints. Let us for a moment make a mathematical calculation. Take two adults to a house.

Then one ratepayer would take the place of two local government electors and twenty-five ratepayers would be the equivalent of about fifty electors—that is to say, five times the number that is specifically provided for in paragraph (b) of this clause. This Amendment would make it far more difficult for the local inhabitants to raise any questions at all; in fact I am told that in some hamlets of Scotland it would be extremely difficult even to muster twenty-five ratepayers. Therefore the Amendment which my noble friend has moved would tend to defeat the whole intention of the clause and I maintain that that is wrong. I think the clause as it stands is quite reasonable. It does seem to me—though I do not like to think it is correct—that the Scottish County Councils Association in their capacity as water undertakers are deliberately trying to limit the right of appeal to the Secretary of State to determine questions that would come up under Clause 3 of the Bill. I do not think my noble friend need worry because it is specifically laid down in the Bill that the Secretary of State must hear the county council's side and I do not really think the county councils in Scotland have very much of which to be afraid.


With great respect I must take exception to the statement of my noble friend that the county councils of Scotland are deliberately trying to reduce the number of complaints that might come up. That is entirely inaccurate. I might even use a stronger term. Their whole intention is to try and get a workable Bill just as the Government are attempting to get a workable Bill. But I do not feel sufficiently strongly on this point to press my Amendment. As to the next Amendment, I do feel a little more strongly about it and when I move it I hope I shall receive a more satisfactory reply than has been given to this Amendment. I beg to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

VISCOUNT ELIBANK moved, in paragraph (b) of subsection (1), to leave out "local government electors" and insert "ratepayers." The noble Viscount said: This is an Amendment to the same clause, and I am moving that instead of the words "tea or more local government electors" the word "ratepayers" should be substituted. Here again the Association of Scottish County Councils feel that this is a matter which particularly concerns the ratepayers and not the local government electors.


No, no.


I am speaking from the Scottish point of view, not from the English one. The county councils also feel that they have to consider the question that has been raised quite recently in the Speaker's Conference where a proposal has been put forward that in future burgh and county councillors should be elected by all citizens entitled to vote for Members of Parliament and not as heretofore by ratepayers. This seems to be the thin end of the wedge, and if that proposal at the Speaker's Conference were to be carried in the future it would apply very definitely to this clause. I think everything ought to be done to avoid bringing politics into local arrangements, and that those who have to pay the rates should continue to be represented not only in this matter but in all matters in which their particular interests are involved. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 7, leave out ("local government electors") and insert ("ratepayers").—(Viscount Elibank.)


I only want to say one word in support of the noble Viscount. If as we understand the Minister can act on a letter from any individual concerned, then automatically he will take care to look after places with very small populations that might be unable to muster twenty-five ratepayers, the number that we ask for in this Amendment. There can be very few such places in Scotland. Moreover, what is in my mind is that it any public Department is overloaded with work the work is done worse than otherwise it would be. We are quite cantankerous people in Scotland and I am not in the least sorry that we are, for thus it is quite easy to muster the required number of people on any matter about which they feel concern. I do think that the noble Viscount's Amendment is a desirable one.


This Amendment is one which I think my noble friend is quite aware I cannot possibly accept. It would have precisely the same effect that the previous Amendment was intended to have. Instead of ten local government electors he proposes to have ten ratepayers. In small areas, whereas it would be easy to find ten electors, it might be difficult to find ten ratepayers. Let me remind my noble friend of something else. The housewife is, I understand, normally an elector but not a ratepayer, so that she would be in point of fact cut out from making her plea to the Minister although she would be more concerned than her husband in a piped water supply. Honestly I think my noble friend should withdraw the Amendment. If anything it is worse than the previous one.


I am sorry that my noble friend has such a poor opinion of these two Amendments. They are Amendments which have been very carefully considered by quite intelligent people in Scotland and therefore I think he might have treated them with a little more seriousness and consideration. However, I do not think they are Amendments that I can press and therefore I ask leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.

Clause 6:

Sewerage, sewage disposal and water supply expenses to be general expenses.

6. Notwithstanding anything in Section three hundred and eight of the Public Health Act, 1936, all expenses incurred (whether before or after the passing of this Act) by a rural district council in connexion with sewers or sewage disposal works or a supply of water shall, in so far as they fall to be defrayed out of rates made in respect of periods beginning after the end of March, nineteen hundred and forty-five, be general expenses.

THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH moved to leave out "with sewers or sewerage disposal works or." The noble Earl said: This Amendment is designed to exclude from a general rate sewers or sewage disposal works. I am aware that my noble friend, in reply to my remarks on the Second Reading of the Bill, gave a most persuasive and well-informed answer which would normally put me out of court completely, but I am still unrepentant on the duper issues which are involved. Water-borne sewage and sewage disposal works, where there is difficulty in connecting with the mains outlying farms and cottages, are not only expensive but also wasteful both of water and good fertilizer, and the system is very often extremely unhygienic, as I have explained before.

There are three very serious objections. The two Amendments which have just been withdrawn by the noble Viscount have gone to point the moral which I wish to draw. Unfortunately, the householders in this country are by no means all ratepayers and I doubt very much if we shall ever get a reasonable, far-sighted democracy until they are ratepayers responsible for what they are asking for. The vast majority of rural householders and local voters are not ratepayers. In the second place, rural district councils—I say it not in any disparagement—are largely composed of men who have retired from various services or from work in the city and want to give some public service. They very rarely understand the full implications of rural life and the difficulties and expenses of people who live there. Those councils have as officers men who are imbued with urban minds, who have received an urban education and whose whole desire, very often, is to be able to prove that they have produced the largest and most expensive scheme possible in the poorest and most desolate area. On the other hand, a great many rural districts have a substantial semi-urban majority with a sewerage scheme which they would like to extend.

Finally, the majority are ignorant of the fact that rural building is always more expensive. Because of the difficulty of siting and the cost of taking the materials to the works the builder's estimate is always higher, and an addition to the cost on account of water supply and electricity supply will fall very heavily on a rural housing scheme. If on top of all this you have a new rural sewerage system and sewage disposal work, where possibly half the inhabitants will get no benefit, the additional capital cost of a housing scheme may make a difference of 10s. a week in rent and add 2S. in rates. That will be extremely onerous. I say quite frankly that I do not expect that the noble Earl will accept my Amendment. I would be quite content if I could have some assurance that where houses and cottages cannot be connected to sewerage schemes their rating will be on an entirely different scale. I think the same differen- tiation should apply in the case of water. If an owner-occupier or a cottage owner has to provide expensive disposal works himself, it is only fair that he should be rated accordingly on a lower scale compared with those who have the benefit of being connected with sewage disposal works.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 45, leave out ("with sewers or sewerage disposal works or")—(The Earl of Portsmouth.)


I am afraid it will not be possible for me to accept this Amendment. At the same time I would say that I am not at all certain that I do not observe an ultimate object behind the Amendment which the noble Earl has moved—namely, an endeavour to discourage the provision of public sewers altogether in rural districts. I told him on Second Reading that the provision of new houses in a parish by a local authority is a district charge and not a parish charge. If that is right, (and I maintain and I think all your Lordships will agree that it is correct), there is, as far as I can see, no good ground for different treatment in the case of services which are often less parochial than the provision of houses. If, as I fear, his object is to hinder the process of spreading sewerage expenses over a rural district as a whole, I think it really will not work. Since 1929 rural district councils have been free to do the spreading themselves and a very large number in fact have already done so. They have done it with the encouragement of the Rural District Councils Association and of my right honourable friend. All that this clause does is to turn into an obligation what is in fact a growing practice of the more enlightenend rural district councils.

I cannot help thinking that public opinion calls for a piped water supply wherever possible and when the piped water supply has been installed a water carriage system of sanitation would normally go with it. What I feel is needed in the provision of sewerage facilities is that in a particular area the matter should be gone into on the facts of the particular case with due regard to economy. As to the rating of cottages, obviously I cannot give an answer to my noble friend to-day. I will certainly convey his remarks to my right honourable friend, but I cannot say that he will be able to accept the suggestion. I know how keenly the noble Earl feels on this matter, but I hope that in view of what I have said he will see his way to withdraw his Amendment.


In view of my noble friend's agreeing to bring the point about lower rating assessment before the authorities, I would wish to withdraw my Amendment. But I would like to say that I have already seen the general rate spread for water sewerage causing considerable injustice and extreme inconvenience to a good many people. But what I am most concerned about is to have built the requisite houses suitable for our own country people in the quickest possible time. I want to see houses of the best possible type put up, and I want nothing to hinder their erection and use, neither enormous capital outlay nor subsequent heavy expenditure for upkeep. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.