§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. An Act of 1944 enabled grants to be made in aid of local authority schemes for water supply and sewerage in rural localities. They were limited at that time to a low figure, and they have been increased by successive Governments up to the present total of £75 million, of which £71 million has either been paid or committed. The remaining £4 million would only carry us on to next summer, and it is therefore proposed that that limit should now be raised to £105 million. This is, accordingly, a Money Bill. 670 I think your Lordships might like to know, on broad lines, what the present position is. The piped water supply is now available to about 96 per cent. of the rural properties affected by this Bill. It is hoped by about 1971 to increase that to 98 per cent. We may therefore say that what is required is not complete, but is at any rate approaching completion.
As regards sewerage, there are no such detailed figures, because the piped water supply figures come from Census figures which are not available for sewerage. However, returns of a fairly comprehensive character made in 1964 showed that about 30 per cent. of the parishes likely to be affected were effectively served, and that about 22 per cent. were partially served, in some cases with works already programmed. About 24 per cent. were not served, but work was programmed; and in about 24 per cent. there was nothing. So that, on those figures, the sewerage position is not so satisfactory as that for piped water supply. But one has to remember two things. First, sewerage is more difficult to deal with, because piped water is under pressure and can therefore be brought to places more easily; and, secondly, because there are in the country still a number of houses—and, I would say, villages, too—where sewerage is not really needed in the same way as a piped water supply is needed; it is possible to make other satisfactory arrangements. So, while it is clear that a good deal yet remains to be done in this field, the position is not so unsatisfactory as it might appear.
I think your Lordships will find that there is no conceivable Party point in this matter. These Acts have been operated at about the same rate under successive Governments. The initiative rests with the local authorities. Of course, the amount in any given year may vary, within limits, but, broadly speaking, over the years there has been steady and not wholly unsatisfactory progress. I beg to move
§ Moved, That the Bill now be read 2a.—(Lord Mitchison.)
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I should like to support this Bill. I do not think I need do much more than underline 671 what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has said about the progress made in recent years in extending the services of both piped water and piped sewerage. I think I am right in saying that about fourteen or fifteen years ago something like 21 per cent. of the rural houses in this country lacked piped water. The noble Lord has told us this afternoon that that figure has now dropped to 4 per cent. and that in six years' time—which would appear to be slightly longer than the duration of the £30 million provided by this Bill—it will have dropped still further to about 2 per cent.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, may I just explain that the date I took was the date of the Census, when the figures became available.
§ LORD NEWTON
I am obliged to the noble Lord. Obviously, one does not want to be complacent about this matter, and undoubtedly in many parts of the country there are at this moment of time more than 4 per cent. of rural houses without piped water. But 4 per cent. is the average over the whole of England and Wales, and, on the whole, I should think that that is something of which the country can be reasonably proud. I should doubt whether anything like so good a situation exists anywhere else in the world.
As the noble Lord told us, the story of piped sewerage is not quite so good, and there is more leeway to be made up. But that is, after all, what one would have expected. It is, as he said, very difficult; and although sometimes it can be very necessary, in some places piped sewerage is not so essential as piped water. Septic tanks can be perfectly satisfactory. I live on the outskirts of a large village and when, eighteen months or two years ago, it was provided with piped sewerage and a proper disposal system, which was very necessary in the middle of the village, I did not feel it very necessary to seek connection to it because my septic tank was very good —and still is, touch wood! Nevertheless, I think that anyone who has driven about the countryside in the last few years, and who has kept his eyes open, cannot have failed to notice work in progress to install piped sewerage. This Bill will undoubtedly help to carry on the good work, 672 and I have no doubt that the House will wish to give it a speedy passage.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, I rise briefly to support this Bill. Having spent nearly all my life in a rural area, I know just how welcome this is, especially to the villages where at the moment they have neither piped water nor sewerage. It is good to know that over the country as a whole 96 per cent. of the rural areas now have piped water. But the position in regard to sewerage schemes is not nearly so good. It is true that many local authorities have a splendid record, in providing both piped water and sewerage schemes for the people living in their areas. Swaffham Rural District Council, in Norfolk, where I live, have a splendid record. They have completed their piped water supply, and are getting well on with the sewerage schemes. But some of the other local authorities, I am sorry to say, are not nearly so progressive.
I support this scheme wholeheartedly, but I hope that it will be possible for the Government Department, when they notify the local authorities that this extra £30 million will be available for the coming years, to give a prod to some of the backward villages who so far have not done as much as they ought to have done, and see whether they cannot "gee" them up and provide both water and sewerage schemes. There are a number of the smaller villages, especially in the more remote parts of the country—and these are the most difficult places—where they have neither piped water nor sewerage schemes, and at certain times of the year this is a real problem. I hope my noble friend will take note of what I have said about trying to stir up the slower authorities. Apart from that, I give the scheme my wholehearted support.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, while supporting the Bill, may I remind the noble Lord that over 22 years £75 million has been required, which is an average of about £4 million a year. Yet apparently the extra £30 million is to last for only five years. Is there any particular reason for that increase in the annual grant?
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, the reason is that expenditure has been increasing in recent years, partly no doubt 673 because things cost more, but partly, too, because there has been more done—and I am very glad to hear it. I have nothing to which to reply, except to say to my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton that I quite see what he has in mind, and I am sure that both the Minister and, even more important, the local authorities who have the initiative in this matter, will read what he has said. He pointed out, quite rightly, that as the work progresses the difficult cases—the expensive ones—remain to be dealt with, and therefore the last 2 per cent. or 4 per cent, or the last 20 per cent., is the hardest for the local authorities.
If I may respectfully say so to your Lordships, I am sure that many noble Lords sitting here have considerable influence where they live, and it would be an excellent thing to stir up the local council to take advantage of these pretty generous grants. They are 35 per cent., with some deductions and limits. They are quite a good bargain, and piped water is worth having. It would be unkind to remind authorities that in some of these cases there are default powers—they do not like being reminded of that. But a little urging word from the Ministry, or from anyone else concerned with the health of the countryside, would, I am sure, be welcomed.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.