§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I do not think I need delay your Lordships for more than a few moments in explaining the purpose of this small measure. Your Lordships may recall that when I introduced the last Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, in March of this year, I informed your Lordships that another Bill would have to be presented to Parliament to invite both Houses to grant further money for the supply of water and sewerage in rural areas. This is the Bill to which I then referred.
Your Lordships may be interested to know that since 1944, the various Rural Water Supply and Sewerage Acts have provided £45 million for England and Wales and £20 million for Scotland. This money will have been fully pledged early in the new year. The purpose of this Bill, as is stated in the Explanatory Memorandum, is to provide a further sum of £30 million for England and Wales and £10 million for Scotland. The total amount provided will then be increased from £65 million to £105 million. Since the passing of the 1944 Act, the work completed, plus the work in progress, for providing water supplies in England and Wales amounts to £55 million and for the provision of sewerage, to a figure of £40 million. I feel that the House will agree that, in spite of the many heavy calls which are made on the nation's resources, much has indeed been accomplished during the past eleven years of which we all may be justly proud. I think I need say no more.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, I think little need be said on this Bill from this side of the House. My noble Leader has already said that we fully concur with the Motion enabling this Bill to be passed through all its stages. We can do nothing but welcome a Bill that will improve the conditions of life of the people who live in rural areas. The noble Earl says that we may take pride in the accomplishment 684 since 1944, but may I ask him one question? Is he satisfied, and are the people in the rural areas satisfied, with this accomplishment? Surely this Bill proves that the pace has been none too quick in introducing water to the countryside. The drift from the agricultural industry into the towns and the acute shortage of agricultural labourers continue. Therefore, we may hope that, far from reducing the rate at which money is being spent for this purpose, the Government will see that it is increased.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, there are two points I should like to make regarding this Bill. First, I should like to endorse what has just been said by my noble friend Lord Lucan and remind the noble Earl, Lord Munster, of the words he has just uttered—" much has indeed been accomplished." That is so, but much indeed needs to be done. I am particularly anxious, in view of what was said here a few days ago, during the Second Reading of the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Bill, that the financial stringency of the times should not in any way hinder the progress which can be made in regard to water supplies and sewerage. I am anxious that in the economy cuts which will no doubt follow during the next two or three years the local authorities should not be expected to cut into their schemes for these two urgent needs of the countryside. I believe it has been suggested in another place that a sum of £17 million will be spent on rural water and sewerage up to April of next year. Apparently, the expenditure for 1954–55 was £14 million, which rose from £12 million in the preceding year. Under this Bill a sum of £40 million is to be set aside for additional schemes in the future. If that £40 million is spread over five years, then we shall not be spending more on an average than £8 million a year, which is a very different sum from £14 million, or even £12 million. I do not in the least know what instructions, if any, were issued to local authorities by Her Majesty's Government, but I am particularly anxious that nothing should curtail the provision of these schemes which are so necessary in our country districts and villages.
In another place the question of the schemes which are carried out by rural authorities was mentioned. I have no knowledge of regional schemes, but I have knowledge of district schemes and parish 685 schemes. In my view, it is highly important that, if possible, the district schemes should be encouraged, rather than the local parish schemes which supply one particular village or parish. In the district schemes, which unite two or three villages, the people living in between the villages receive the benefit of a piped water supply; but if a parish scheme only is sanctioned by the Government, then the farms, particularly on the outskirts of the parishes, cannot be connected with a piped supply, and the farmers, in catering for their own domestic needs or stock needs, have to fall back upon their own water supplies, which may not be completely adequate. In addition, the Government are faced with providing a grant in aid for those schemes, which they would not have to face if schemes were started on a piped supply. Therefore, I hope that the Government will advise local authorities, or whoever is introducing these schemes, to form them into district schemes, which I feel is a much better way of supplying the villages concerned. The Bill has received a blessing from this side of the House, and I endorse that blessing, because I am sure that anything which we can spend to keep our people in rural houses and on the land must be for the benefit of this country as a whole.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, perhaps I may reply briefly to the observations made by the two noble Lords opposite. Let MC say at once, in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, that I think we should be satisfied with what we have accomplished up to date, because in England and Wales alone we have now reached an expenditure on schemes finished or started totalling some £95 million. However, I would agree with him and with the noble Lord, Lord Wise, that there is still a long way to go before we can reach absolute perfection. There are still many of these schemes which call for grants from the Treasury and from my right honourable friend, which 686 will be met from time to time as the years proceed.
I come now to the question which was addressed to me by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, with regard to the financial stringency which is now in force. As he rightly said, the expenditure for this year, 1955–56, has been set at a figure of £17 million. More than half of that sum has already been passed, and there are other schemes which are waiting to be authorised which will, in fact, cover the other 50 per cent. of this figure. It is true that in the message which was sent to local authorities by ray two right honourable friends, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the local authorities were asked in this next financial year to cut their expenditure to what it was in the year 1954–55. I am not in a position today to tell the House what that programme will be for (he next year (it will be settled, as noble Lords know, by the normal machinery for consideration of these figures; that is to say, by the Departmental Estimates), but I can assure the House that my right honourable friend is fully alive to the urgent need for the provision of water and sewerage in these rural areas, and anything which can be done to help in this respect will be done by my two right honourable friends. I should not like to suggest any figure to the House as expenditure for the next year. I think it is far better to let the demand from local authorities, after consideration of the letter sent by my noble friend, take its normal course through the departmental channels. I can assure both noble Lords who have spoken that anything that Her Majesty's Government can do, within the resources of the nation, will in fact be done.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.
§ Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution), Bill read 3a, and passed.