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Water Bill Lords

Volume 446: debated on Friday 30 January 1948

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Order for Second Reading read.

1.45 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a minor Bill and I hope that it is non-controversial. It brings up to date the Water Act, 1945, and deals with certain difficulties which have been found to prevent the full use of that Act by water undertakers seeking new powers and persons wishing to form new water undertakings. The Bill was introduced in another place. The text of the original draft was amended as a result of the consideration given to it and I think those Amendments have improved and clarified the drafting without in any way interfering with the original intentions.

I am glad to be able to say that local authorities and other water undertakers are already making very good use of the procedure of the Act which is working very well, on the whole. The Minister has already made 90 orders, while 53 orders are being considered by the Department at the present time. The Department has knowledge of proposals for 44 other schemes which water undertakers have in various stages of preparation. The House will agree that those are fruitful results after just over two years' experience of the working of the Act. There is every reason to think that there will be an increasing use of the procedure as water undertakers become more familiar with it. The full effect will then be seen of the planning of the past two years.

Shortages of labour and materials have prevented the full operation of the Act in rural areas and the full extension of the service to urban areas, which must be achieved before the scheme reaches its maximum efficiency. There has been a good deal of work in the planning of new schemes and in the redistribution of areas of supply not only by local authority water undertakers themselves, but in many detailed surveys already carried out, or being carried out, by the engineering inspectors of the Ministry. Those surveys cover wide areas and deal with many problems of supply and distribution. Their recommendations include suggestions for new works and for the re-organisation of existing undertakings. The effects of this planning are already being reflected in applications to the Minister for new powers.

It must also be anticipated and it has already been demonstrated that the Government policy for the development of new towns will bring demands for new supplies and for the formation of new undertakings which will, of necessity, be sited in areas of limited resources and with services designed for areas of smaller population than will be provided by the new developments.

It is, therefore, very desirable on all counts that there should be no flaws to prevent the full use of the powers of the Act for these purposes. Although the Bill is a small Measure, it is somewhat intricate, as no doubt hon. Members will already have seen. It will, therefore, be necessary, I fear, to go rather more closely into details than is usual in a Second Reading speech.

The main purpose of the Bill is to overcome difficulties that hinder the formation of new undertakings and the combination of existing undertakings into joint boards. These matters are covered by Clauses 1–3. At present Statutory Water Undertakers for the purpose of the Act are companies, local authorities and other bodies and persons supplying water under the Act, a function which cannot be performed unless land can be acquired and, in some instances, a supply of water can be made available either in bulk from other undertakings or from rivers and streams. The Act already empowers the Minister to authorise Statutory Water Undertakers to give and take bulk supplies and to acquire land and water rights. No difficulty arises where the undertakings are already affording supplies, but as, by virtue of this definition as I have given it now, the powers are not exercisable until the undertakers are in fact supplying water, the Gilbertian situation may be reached that new undertakers cannot become Statutory Water Undertakers until they are supplying water and cannot obtain the powers that are necessary to enable them to supply water until they are Statutory Water Undertakers. That is obviously an impossible situation.

There are also difficulties in regard to the formation of joint boards or the amalgamation of undertakings. Section 9 of the Act empowers the Minister, with or without the agreement of the undertakers, to amalgamate existing undertakings and to form joint boards. It will often be the case that the new undertakings thus formed will need additional powers for the taking of a bulk supply, the construction of new works or the compulsory acquisition of land for water rights at the time they are formed. As the Act stands, they cannot apply for or be vested with powers for this purpose until they are in fact functioning, and the powers must, therefore, be obtained in two stages. This means duplication of the very comprehensive procedure of the Act in regard to advertisements, service of notice, objections and local inquiries, and possibly separate consideration of each stage by special Parliamentary procedure.

It is proposed to meet the first difficulty by providing that new undertakers shall be statutory Water Undertakers when they are authorised to supply water instead of when they are actually supplying water. This is done in Clause 1. As for the other difficulties, Clause 2 provides that orders authorising the formation of new undertakings, the constitution of joint boards or the amalgamation of undertakings, may also make provision for the giving and taking of bulk supplies, the construction of works or the acquisition of water rights. Clause 3 provides that persons applying for powers to form new undertakings or existing undertakers applying for orders amalgamating undertakings or constituting joint boards may make, and submit to the Minister for confirmation, orders for the compulsory purchase of land at any time before the orders authorising the formation of new undertakings or the combination of existing undertakings are made. As hon. Members will appreciate, this will be a much simpler and speedier method than the one we have to employ at present. The Act lays down in the First and Second Schedules the procedure which undertakers and the Minister must follow in regard to the service of notice, advertisements, objections and inquiries and as to the consideration by special Parliamentary procedure of certain kinds of orders if objections are pressed. It is intended that the appropriate procedure shall apply to orders made under the Sections as amended by these Clauses, and provision for that is therefore made in the Bill.

Those are the main objects of the Bill, but the opportunity has been taken to make some other desirable amendments. Clause 4 deals with supplies of water in bulk. Doubts have been expressed whether water undertakers can take supplies of water from bulk from persons who are not specifically authorised to furnish such supplies and also whether the Minister has powers to establish an undertaking solely for the purpose of supplying water in bulk. If, for example, it was desired to form an undertaking to construct head works and a reservoir and to sell the water to local authorities for distribution in their districts. This Clause will remove any doubts.

Clause 5 will smooth the path of persons who apply for licences to construct works for the abstraction of water in areas where abstraction is controlled by orders made by the Minister under Section 14 of the Act. It has sometimes been found when an application has been investigated that the works could have been sited with less risk of interference with other supplies in an area other than that selected by the Act. Under the existing provisions the applicant must go through all the procedure of making a further application, including advertising and service of notice, before he can be assured that the alternative site will produce the supply. The Clause will enable him, with the Minister's consent, to carry out an experimental pumping for this purpose before application for the further licence is made. If the alternative site proves to be satisfactory, the applicant will have to comply with the procedure of the Act, including providing an opportunity for interested persons to object, before the Minister decides whether a licence shall be given permitting him to use the water. The Clause also makes it clear that persons who wish to install or modify machinery for the purpose of extracting additional quantities of water in controlled areas must first obtain a licence. This is a necessary provision since the intentions of the Section may well be defeated if large additional quantities of water are abstracted, for example, by the installation of modern pumping machinery.

Clause 6 contains a new power for water undertakers which is, however, very similar to the powers which have already been conferred on planning authorities by Section 103 (9) of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. The Clause will enable water undertakers who propose to acquire land for their undertaking, to survey the land before steps are taken to acquire it, so that they may be satisfied that it is suitable for the purpose for which it is wanted. Water undertakers can often obtain permission from the owners to enter into provisional agreements for purchase, but there have been cases where compulsory powers have been necessary and the Clause is intended to deal with that. A compulsory purchase order involves considerable trouble, delay and expense, all of which is completely wasted if the site proves to be unsuitable. Moreover the siting and planning of ancillary work, such as treatment plant, service reservoirs or pumping stations, may depend on the suitability of the site selected for the head works. The Government consider that it is in the public interest that water undertakers should be able to assure themselves that land for public water supplies is suitable before they are obliged to acquire it. It will, however be noticed that the powers are exercisable only with the Minister's consent and after he has heard any representations from the owners and occupiers and, further, that compensation for damage or disturbance will have to be paid to persons with legal interest in any land affected by the provisions. The Clause will not, of course, absolve undertakers from the necessity of obtaining powers for the use of land under the full procedure of the Act if subsequently they wish to acquire it.

Clause 7 contains a minor but necessary improvement consequent upon the power of water undertakers and local authorities to lay mains in land not forming part of a street. These are desirable powers, especially in rural areas, where mechanised plant cannot always be used effectively in narrow lanes. There is less interference with traffic, and the cost of maintenance of the streets and mains is reduced considerably. As the law stands, however, the undertakers can obtain power to lay the mains but, if the owner refuses consent, cannot obtain power to lay the pipes between the mains and the premises to be served if those pipes will pass through land not forming part of a street. This Clause will put the communication pipe in the same category in this respect as the mains. In both cases the owner's consent has to be obtained. If consent is withheld, the Minister can determine whether or not the refusal is unreasonable.

Clause 8 provides that supplies under the Public Health Act to houses used partly for a profession shall be on the same footing as if they were given under the Water Act. Clause 9 extends the provision of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act of 1946 to the development corporations of the new towns if they become water undertakers. They will thus be in the same position as local authorities who are water undertakers except that the special and temporary powers for the speedy acquisition of land have been excluded, as it is considered unlikely that they will be required for the purposes of water supply to the new towns.

I do not think I need make further reference to any other provisions in the Bill. The Bill as a whole will simplify some of the procedure of the Act. It will remove certain flaws which were not evident when the original Bill was in draft, but have since come to light as a result of the experience gained by the Minister in the administration of the Act. It is, I am convinced, a useful Measure which will be reflected in improved administration and, together with the 1945 Act, will I hope eventually mean better supplies. I commend it to the House.

2.4 p.m.

The Minister opened his remarks by claiming that this was a non-controversial matter, and I agree with him entirely in that statement. As he said, the Bill is designed to amend certain blemishes or omissions or difficulties that have been discovered in the 1945 Act. The hon. Gentleman gave the House certain information as to the manner in which that Act was working and the progress being made. The House is grateful for that information and, further, for the very full manner in which he dealt with this Measure which, although it is a minor one, is nevertheless of considerable importance.

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to stress to his right hon. Friend the great importance of water in the rural areas, and I am certain that he and his right hon. Friend will press that as much, as possible in the circumstances of the present day. He also referred to the Amendments made in another place, and there again we have a right to express our thanks for the clarification obtained there which has made the Bill a much better Bill, although it is not altered in principle by the Amendments.

The principal purpose of the Bill is to give powers, which under the principal Act can be conferred on existing statutory undertakers, to new statutory undertakers simultaneously with their creation. That purpose will commend itself to the House. I was amused at the absurdity to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that under the existing law new undertakers cannot become statutory undertakers and cannot obtain a supply of water in bulk, or land or water rights, unless they are actually engaged in the supply of water and are thereby qualified to become statutory undertakers. That is remedied by Clause 1, and Clause 2 gets rid of a similar absurdity in regard to joint boards and amalgamations. As the hon. Gentleman said, the opportunity has been taken to make certain other alterations in the law, and with these we are in accord. However, it may be that at some later stage we shall ask for certain Amendments in regard to small matters such as in Clause 6, where we do not think the time allowed to make representations by the owner to the Minister is sufficient.

There is one point on which the Bill is silent, and it should be remedied. There is a great and increasing demand for water in these days, and water authorities are, no doubt, seeking to find water wherever it may be found by deep borings and otherwise. Existing supplies may well be affected by new borings and that is serious, particularly in the rural areas, and especially in connection with agriculture. Where a statutory water undertaking takes water from existing wells that have been in operation for long years, it should be incumbent on that authority to supply the people with water; they should be compensated by the authority for the water taken away from them. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider that matter, which was raised in another place. I think the Government undertook there to do so, but nothing further happened. I hope the hon. Gentleman will consider whether it would not be possible to introduce a Clause into the Bill to make that necessary safeguard.

On the whole I think the House will agree with the Minister that this is a reasonable Bill. As I have said, we may bring forward Amendments later but, that apart, I feel with the Minister that the principles of the Bill should be accepted, and that the House today should give it a Second Reading.

2.9 p.m.

I think we are all in agreement that the Bill is a necessary improvement on the 1945 Act, not that one wishes to throw stones at that Act, which, in itself, was a considerable improvement on what had gone before. Indeed, for the last hundred years, since the passing of the Waterworks Clauses Act, 1847, which was the foundation of all modern waterworks enterprise, there has been a steady but slow evolution of waterworks legislation. If I wanted a parable on the subject of water, I would say that the attendance in the House today is indicative of the way in which Government Departments and local authorities consider the subject of water. They consider it lightly until they are threatened with losing it. We had an example of that during the war. I hope my friends in the Treasury will not mind what I am about to say, but one of the regrets of my life is that, when a German bomb broke the watermain in Whitehall, the water was shut off too quickly for it to overflow into the Treasury vaults. If it had done so, it would have called attention to the need of labour for repairing it. During the war, water was held in such light esteem that there was no priority for the repair of water mains, although more than 6,000 were broken in London.

Some of us have had to struggle very hard to get water put on the same footing as gas and electricity for supplies of fuel. As water is one of the elementary necessities of life, for rural areas and for the towns, it should not be so difficult to maintain a good supply. I regard this Bill as a further step in the evolution towards what should be a nation-wide supply of water. Because of that, I wel- come the Bill. From my own experience I can endorse what my hon. Friend has said in introducing it.

The 1945 Act has been operated in various ways. For instance, the Central Advisory Water Committee has been set up, and has been working pretty hard. I hope that before long there will be outward and visible evidence of some of the work it has been doing. One result of that evidence, I hope, will be to correct something which went rather badly astray about 12 months ago, not through the fault of my hon. Friend nor his right hon. Friend. Reference has been made to new towns, and some of us know that the propositions in regard to water for one new town would have resulted in robbing an English river of a considerable amount of water which they proposed to put back above the intakes of the authority in the shape of sewage. That is not planning, but the negation of planning. I hope there will be very careful planning in connection with the finding of water. After all, the game of robbing Peter to pay Paul may be a good thing for Paul up to a point, but it does not make common sense. The water supply of the country should be regarded as a comprehensive whole, rather than as little fragments entirely unconnected with one another, as has been the case in the past.

The 1945 Act gives an opportunity for organising the water supplies of the country. Some of us have had uncomplimentary things to say about the rainfall in the North West. Although people up there have spoken about London as "The Great Smoke," I have heard people compare the North West to another place, not quite so salubrious as "The Great Smoke." It gives us a shock to find that great towns in that area have had difficulty in connection with their water supply recently. I agree that there has been a tremendous hold-up of water undertakings, due first to the war, and secondly to the postwar situation. I know the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister are straining at the leash to see that handicaps are overcome. I yield to no one in my desire to see water supplies extended to the rural areas, but all that will mean new mains, plant, and the acquisition of land. This Bill makes the acquisition of land easier than under the 1945 Act, and I hope that before long the Minister and the Parliamentary Secre- tary will be able to take a big jump forward in that direction.

The situation in regard to water pollution is serious. There was a time when the London river so teemed with salmon that London employers were forbidden to feed their apprentices with Thames salmon more than twice a week. That was the time when we had a pure stream, but now London's river, and other rivers, are not pure. I know that if London's supremacy is to be maintained it must maintain its industrial character, but I am afraid that authorities, large and small, have been great sinners in the way in which they have polluted the streams, I know that London's water is not taken from the tidal portion of the river, but in many rivers there has been a steady deterioration of the sewage effluent. The Minister of Health and his advisers are keen to see it made nearer the high standard attained by the West Middlesex scheme at Mogden. If every sewage works in this country had the same high standard, the rivers of our country would be in a much better state. I only wish some other towns were working on those lines.

I hope that when the Bill becomes an Act, the Minister will turn his attention to the real organisation of the water supplies of the country. In the past there has been too much fighting by one authority against another, instead of combining to provide a proper supply of water. I know that in this I am probably speaking against the interests of Parliamentary counsel, because they have flourished as a result of that strife, but their interests are far less important than the water supplies of this country. I hope that by means of regional advisory councils throughout the country there may be regional co-ordination, instead of the fight which has gone on as recently as last Session in this House between more than two water authorities.

While I wish the Bill well, I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that it is a minor Measure, though a very necessary and important one. I hope it will be the prelude to administrative action on the part of the Government towards putting the water supplies of the country into such a state that we shall not have the spectacle of water flooding, and then water scarcity, such as there has been in recent years. The advice given by Joseph Ben Jacob many centuries ago to take the products of the rich ripe years, and store them for the time of scarcity, is advice which might very well be taken into account in connection with water supplies. Quite a number of years ago a scheme was put forward for two very large impounding reservoirs up the Thames, where the water could be impounded in times of surplus, and let down in times of drought. Unfortunately, due to procrastination, one of those sites is no longer obtainable.

What can be said in regard to the Thames can be said of other districts. As we are likely to be presented again with the spectacle of floods followed by droughts, the commonsense thing to do would be to take the products of those floods and store them, and then let them out in time of drought. After all, this country, in many respects, is a wet country, and I am not saying that from the temperance point of view. From that point of view, I am increasingly hopeful that it will become a dry country. There is plenty of water in this country, and it flows in unchecked every winter. If that water could be stored, and if it is not beyond the wit of British water engineers to devise means for storing it—indeed, there are a number of schemes which cannot be proceeded with now owing to the present situation—if it can be stored, for manufacturing purposes and for hydro-electric purposes, we shall no longer have the farcial situation of 12 months ago.

I should like to mention to the Minister that there are certain directions in which I think the Bill may be improved when the Committee Stage is reached, but it would not be proper to mention them now. I hope that, when the suggestions are made to the Minister he will recognise that they are pat forward with the sole aim of improving the Bill and helping the administration of the water supplies in our country.

2.21 p.m.

My hon. Friend, who has just made an able and informative speech, is a recognised authority on the question we are now considering, though he was speaking mainly from the point of view of the London area, where some forward planning has been done in anticipation of the needs of the population and of industry. I was glad to hear him contrast that with our position in the North of England, and especially in North Staffordshire, the North-Western areas and adjacent areas.

This Bill is a disappointment to me, for, relatively, it means the maintenance of the status quo based upon evolution that comes from legislation passed 100 years ago. Today, we have this Bill; next week or the week after, it may be the Rivers Bill; and, in the following week or the week after that, some other Bill. Expediency, expediency, expediency. What we were entitled to expect from a Labour Government was a comprehensive policy, and a Bill based upon that comprehensive policy, like the Bill which has been published today dealing with Parliamentary representation. We have floods and ample water in the winter, droughts and a shortage of water in the summer, and that even applies to Manchester. For several summers, the water supply of Stoke-on-Trent has been in danger. In North Staffordshire, we suffer from the serious effects of mining subsidence, which seriously endangers our water supplies. In that area, we must have steel pipes to carry water, and one of the difficulties over which the local authorities have no control is that they are only offered cast-iron pipes when it is absolutely necessary that they should have steel. I contrast this dangerous position in North Staffordshire and the North-West, and also in other industrial areas, with what I have seen for the last 20 years.

For 20 years, I have been travelling between Manchester and Euston, and, every year, I have seen floods in the Trent Valley and in other parts: yet, we now have 10th century technology at our disposal—bulldozers, mechanical navvies, trench diggers and reinforced concrete for the banks of rivers and canals. In these circumstances, the Minister responsible should tell the scientists and engineers of this country, who are the authorities in these matters, what is required of them because they can deal with almost anything. Instead of that, we still allow floods in winter and a water shortage in summer, and all this after a war of science such as we have just passed through.

This Bill is the product of a Victorian mind, or of an office where men and women live in a world of their own. This Bill is not worthy of Labour Ministers; it is the product of backwoodsmen. We should have introduced an all-inclusive and comprehensive Bill, prepared with vision by men with a big outlook and an understanding of what can be done with 10th century technology to meet the needs of the country. The country is in a serious economic position. By their own efforts, the people will save themselves, if they are allowed to do so. Industry and the people are achieving miracles. Give them the tools and the plans and they will deliver the goods. This Bill can be compared to using a spade instead of a modern bulldozer.

This country must have ample supplies of coal and power. What an opportunity we have, and what great potentialities we have in our country in our ample supplies of coal and water power. We should have laid out a national plan for the scientific utilisation of our ample supplies of water. We should have adopted, in accordance with Labour's policy, a national water policy for the use and conservation of water. Leading members of the Government in the past have all had a great deal to say about planning. Never did a Government in peacetime have greater powers than this Government, and they should have gone in for the planning of our natural resources, of which water is one, so as to build up, conserve and utilise them in a 10th century way. Let all remember the fuel crisis of 1947, when some of us for weeks spent much of our time in prophesying what was going to take place. Now, I give the same warning in regard to water. My hon. Friends may not, however, be prepared to accept this from me. Let them, then, listen to the Secretary of the Royal Meteorological Society, who some time ago gave a grave warning. This is what he said:
"With water reserves in their present state, a drought comparable with that of 1740–43 would be a national disaster of the first magnitude."
He implied that we are little better prepared to meet the emergency than were our ancestors 200 years ago. I was not as pessimistic as this, for I contented myself with saying 100 years ago. He goes on:
"So imperfect are arrangements for conserving water in some of our more populous centres that, after three months of dry weather, following the great floods, supplies ran dangerously low."
Compared with that serious warning, this Bill is only tinkering with the problem. Those of us who represent areas where the water supply of the people has been in such danger many times before would be lacking in our duty if we did not protest on their behalf against this tinkering with the problem, for that is all this Bill means. Compared with that, we have had long newspaper reports of the terrible suffering that arises from flooding in places like the Severn Valley, the Wye Valley, and the Lugg Valley. In Shrewsbury, for example, 500 houses were flooded. In the North Staffordshire area, floods endangered poor people's houses. It is always the poor people's houses that are flooded, and their furniture which floats on the water.

Salford have issued a booklet stating that, in the event of the Irwell again overflowing, the local authorities have made provision for rest shelters, for medical men to attend the people, and to blow the sirens if the water gets above a certain height. One would think this was 1748, not 1948. As I have said, 500 houses in Shrewsbury were flooded recently, the main roads were blocked, ferry services had to be organised to take people to and from their employment, to take food to them, and a large number of cattle was lost. There is grave danger of subsidence as the result of the water getting under the surface of the roads. Yet we still prefer floods in the winter and shortage of water in the summer.

We have suffered from flooding for generations. It was excusable in the past when we worked with small tools, like picks and shovels, but, now that we are in the 10th century, there is no excuse for floods in the winter and shortage of water in the summer. The time has arrived when this should be regarded as a national responsibility. The Government ought to have introduced a comprehensive Measure—not three or four Bills, but one Bill—dealing with the whole problem of water supplies for the people and industry, and its utilisation in other ways. Large concerns like Metropolitan Vickers, the English Electric, Mowlem's, Wimpeys, and Lindsay Parkinson's, are among the firms who build reservoirs all over the world which guarantee water supplies to the people of other countries, but they are not building in the same way at home. I suggest that the Government should reconsider their approach to the problem. This is the old way of approach. My hon. Friend said that our water supplies in the North-West and other areas are in danger. I contrast that with the position in the London area, where they planned for the people's needs. Therefore, I hope that a more comprehensive Measure will be introduced as quickly as possible.

I was probably anti-Nazi long before a lot of other people in this country, but it can be said to the credit of the Germans that they organised their inland waterways and their water supplies. There is no excuse for us not doing the same. When I suggest what ought to be done, people sometimes point out our serious economic problems. I am the first to admit that we are in a very serious position, but what I am saying is that, instead of tinkering with the problem as we are doing today, we ought to have introduced a Bill that would have enabled us to approach the problem in a 10th century way. What our contractors can do all over the world, what the Germans did in Germany, and what is being done in many other countries, we can do, if we adopt a similar policy.

I remember, when a similar Bill was introduced some years ago, I made an appeal to the then Minister of Health, who was looked upon by some of us as being relatively progressive compared with many of his right hon. and hon. Friends. He was Sir Kingsley Wood. It must be to or 15 years ago since he gave a promise that this matter would be dealt with, and that pollution would be done away with. My hon. Friend, who understands the needs of the London area probably better than anyone else, said that the authorities in London had anticipated the needs of the people, and had made plans for dealing with them. But, in many other parts, the position is no better today than it was years ago. The health of our people is endangered, our water supply is wasted, and fish cannot live in many of our rivers.

In my view, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works was correct when he said, in June, 1946, that there was a source of weakness in the multiplicity of undertakings, many of which needed to be eliminated. This Bill perpetuates this multiplicity. We should have had a Bill based upon a national authority with regional organisation, when, in my view, we would have been able to deal with the whole problem. We need a comprehensive Measure based upon a national plan for the co-ordination of all our water interests and supplies, and for the conservation of our water resources and the scientific harnessing of water for the supply of power.

2.37 p.m.

I am bound to say that I have a great deal of sympathy with the eloquent appeal that has just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) for what may be called a "new deal" in the organisation of the water supplies of the country. I am not sure, however, that I would have expressed some of the points in his speech with quite the same vigour as he did, because I know that, in addressing his remarks to my and his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, he was pushing at an open door. I believe that the Ministry of Health are very conscious of the fact that they are—and, perhaps of necessity—dealing with the country's water supplies on the basis of an ad hoc patching up of the existing structure, rather than working out a completely new structure. I have no doubt that they are conscious of that, and are filled with a desire to build a new structure and to start a new scheme, whenever that is possible.

I think the House will recognise that, what with one thing and another—the new health scheme, and the re-orientation of the relationships between the Government and the local authorities and of the relationships between the local authorities themselves—the Ministry of Health have got quite a lot on their hands at the moment. Anyhow, as even my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke suggested, this is not, perhaps, the best time for entering into large-scale arrangements which would, of necessity, involve considerable expenditure in capital equipment. But sometimes it is necessary to keep pushing at a door even when one knows it is open, because if one does not give a little push once in a while, it has a tendency to shut.

Would my hon. Friend explain how it is possible to push at an open door?

If my hon. Friend will carry out a small experiment on an open door, he will find that even he will have no difficulty in carrying out this operation. What I meant was this There is a danger in tackling a large scale problem by legislation through expediency, and in tacking new patches on a leaky structure. The habit grows, and one goes from expediency to expediency.

I do not wish to detain any hon. Members who may be listening to me, under false pretences. I propose to ride a well known hobby-horse of mine. Some hon. Members know that on many occasions I have argued in this House with respect to manufacturing industries that enormous gains are to be achieved in productivity, output, the raising of our standard of living and the contribution towards the solution of our economic problems by rationalisation and standardisation. Recently I have been doing some study to see whether those principles have equal application to the provision of a public utility service as they have to the manufacturing of goods. I thought I could find no better example on which to test this possibility than the example of the extremely unco-ordinated industry of supplying water to the population as a whole. I approach this subject as a layman, purely as a manufacturing man, and it seems to me that on the basis of the layman's approach and on the basis of what one knows in other spheres about the gains to be achieved by rationalisation and standardisation, the potential gain of this new deal in the water industry is enormous.

There are no less than seven applications, with each one of which I shall deal briefly, in relation to the rationalisation and standardisation of the water industry. The first thing one should try to standardise is the end product. Although the law imposes upon water undertakings the obligation to give what is called an adequate supply of wholesome water, in no Act can I find any definition of the words "adequate" or "wholesome" in this context. Consequently, varying purveyors of water can purvey varying commodities all of which fall within this extremely loose definition of what they are required to purvey. Secondly, it is quite clear that standardisation will eliminate the very wide variations which exist in efficiency of operation between varying water undertakings throughout the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke has referred already to the multiplicity of water undertakings—not only their multiplicity in numbers but also their multiplicity in types.

I am bound to say that, coming to this problem as an outsider and with a fresh mind, I was amazed and, indeed, appalled to see how disparate was the operation over the country of this industry of supplying water. So far as I can make out, there are more than 550 water undertakings in Great Britain and Northern Ireland which are members of the British Water Works Association. Some of them are owned municipally, but there is also a surprisingly high number of private companies; there are 149 statutory companies, 89 non-statutory companies, and over 1,000 private purveyors of water, and these purveyors are of all sorts, shapes and sizes. Because they are of all sorts, shapes and sizes, they are at all sorts of different levels of efficiency. The larger waterworks, so far as the layman can judge, appear to be run very efficiently indeed, on the whole. But obviously some of the smaller undertakings have not the capital resources, the regular revenue or the resources in staff to provide anything like a good service. That is why, with all this multiplicity of undertakings, with all these guns shooting at the same target, from big howitzers down to little popguns, all shooting in a unco-ordinated way at the same time, there is still a considerable part of the country where, as the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) pointed out, there are no piped supplies of water at all.

It is this question of differences in size of undertaking and in size of operation which accounts, to a considerable extent, for these wide margins of efficiency. In providing water, just as in manufacturing escalators, silk stockings or pills, there is always an optimum size for an organisation, taking all the factors into account. An organisation above or below its optimum size can, by definition, not be as efficient as one at the optimum size. Here we have giant organisations like the Metropolitan Water Board which I should think is, if anything, larger than the optimum size for efficiency, and at the other end of the scale there are many units which have not the staff or the plant required, and I believe there is a small number of units which have no full-time staff at all and clearly are very vulnerable in this connection.

There is a great deal to be done by standardisation of equipment. Even the electrical engineering industry, which has completely failed to tackle its duty of getting some degree of standardisation in design of equipment, appears to me to be no worse, and perhaps even better, than the water undertakings. We are losing a great deal of productive power owing to lack of standardisation in water fittings. One authority insists on a particular size of lavatory cistern. Another authority will not have that size. It is a quarter of an inch too big, or, in one case, an eighth of an inch too big. One, therefore, has to tool up to manufacture another lavatory cistern in order to get a cistern one-eighth of an inch different in size. Some authorities want their cisterns with their sides at right angles to the base. Other authorities will not have that; the sides must be at an oblique angle to the base. Different authorities even go so far as to disagree on what that angle ought to be, as though there would occur any tremendous disaster to the welfare and health of the nation if we used lavatory cisterns whose sides were at an angle of 105 degrees to the base instead of at an angle of 104 degrees 30 minutes to the base. All this is the result of the lack of co-ordination of which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke was speaking. There is also little co-ordination in research, though obviously a great deal of research needs to be done, as I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would be the first to admit. How is it possible effectively to get any co-ordination of research when there is such a large number of authorities of different types?

I come to another point of which the domestic consumer, and certainly every hon. Member in this House, will be aware. We are wasting a tremendous amount of clerical labour in particular, and administrative labour in general, through the complete failure to apply any sort of standardisation to the methods of charge. There is a large number of different methods of charging for domestic water supplies, and it seems to me that the only respect in which the 1945 Act does not represent a considerable improvement on the 1936 Act is that it is extremely doubtful whether the facilitation of some uniform practice in the 1945 Act, so far as charging is concerned, is going to have any real effect at all.

In some places dwelling-houses are charged on the gross annual value; in some places on the annual value; in some on the annual rack rent. Sometimes the charges vary, not only as between houses in a city and those just outside it, but as between different parts of the same city; sometimes charges vary according to whether the properties are considered to be above or below the datum level. Sometimes a small house is charged at a higher percentage than a large one. Sometimes there is a flat rate. In some places one pays extra if one has a bath or a water closet, and so on. Even that chaotic situation so far as charges for domestic use are concerned is not nearly as chaotic as the method of charging for industrial use; though here it must be said that the 1945 Act does appear to effect a quite considerable improvement.

What is the result of all this? It is that in many water undertakings the clerical staff engaged on the assessment of charges and the collection of the money is greater than the total remaining staff, technical and operative, of the organisation as a whole. That is to say, more than half the staff is engaged, not in providing water, but in working out how much to charge for the water and then in collecting the charges which, in these various and devious ways, they have worked out. It is an overhead cost that it is grossly unfair to expect the industry of supplying water to bear. There seems to be not only an overwhelming case for some sort of standardisation, even with a few amendments here and there, in the method of charging for domestic water supplies, but a quite strong case also for making that charge nil and for dealing with water in exactly the same way as we deal domestically with sewage disposal. In that case we do not have elaborate calculations in algebraic formulae for deciding how much ought to be charged for collecting it at various types of houses. We simplify the thing by making it a charge on the rates, without all this nonsense. There seems to be a case for this, too, in respect of water.

Then there is the question of the standardisation of sources and resources re- ferred to by my hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Mr. Berry), who is an undoubted authority on this question. There is still too much allocation of sources and resources by what may be called political considerations—the boundaries of authorities, of county boundaries, and so on—rather than by geographical and geological considerations. All sorts of undertakings take water from the Pennines. The pipe lines criss-cross one another, or, at least, go very near one another, without any facilities at all for interchange; and one authority will refuse to give another authority the great deal of help and easement it could by providing facilities for interchange. What they do is to add further to their overheads, and reduce the amount of money they could have available for construction and technical development, by promoting legislation in Parliament, a good deal of which is designed to defeat the objects of legislation by other undertakings. A good deal of time and money is spent on legislation which otherwise could go into providing more and better water supplies.

In this respect the authorities are in a very much worse position than the private landlord. Do people realise—I am quite sure I did not realise until I had this quite recent look into the habits of this industry—that the landlord is much better off than any water authority in this connection? There is no power to prevent the landlord or even the renter of land, the occupier, sinking a bore; but a water authority cannot sink a bore until this House gives it authority to do so. There is, as a result, competition for water not only as between authority and authority, which is bad enough, but between authorities and private owners There have been, for example, in recent years large-scale borings by private borers in South Lincolnshire, who between them waste 10,000,000 gallons a day whilst providing water to grow watercress. In the same area water undertakings are unable to supply adequate water to their consumers

I apologise to the House for the time that I, an amateur, am taking on the matter, but I come now to the seventh and last point at which it appears to me some rationalisation is possible, and that is at the level of Government administration of water supplies. Although it is quite clear that the ideal situation would be that in which there would be a single Government Department dealing with water matters, it does seem to be rather an ideal than a practicable proposition; but it does appear to me that we have a degree of duplication and multiplication which is on the whole unjustified.

So far as I can find out, the Ministry of Health deals with piped water supplies and the prevention of pollution. The Ministry of Transport also has a hand in the prevention of pollution, as well as, of course, looking after inland navigation. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is concerned with drainage, and the fisheries, and the water supplies in agricultural areas, and, like the other two Ministries, with the prevention of pollution. Water power is the responsibility of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Water for fire fighting is the responsibility of the Home Office. Industrial water supplies are the responsibility of the Board of Trade. There are other matters which are shared amongst a number of different agencies. The general responsibility for the administration of reservoirs is shared between the Home Office and the Ministry of Health.

It does seem, unless I am greatly mistaken—and I repeat that I come to this matter as an amateur, new to the study of this industry—that there is a great deal of substance in the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke that we stop, as he said, "tinkering about" with this thing, that we start trying to amend the thing as a whole, rather than in an ad hoc manner. When my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and my right hon. Friend are a bit less busy with the doctors and local authorities and other problems with which they have to deal, they might gather together a team of people to sit down quietly for six months with a clean sheet of paper and work this out from scratch. I hope we shall have some evidence in the near future that that, at least, is the intention, even though it may not be practicable immediately.

3.0 p.m.

This is an amending Bill, making some very necessary, though not very large, improvements in the main Water Act, 1945, and as such I welcome it. I sit for a constituency in one of the driest parts of England, in which quite a large proportion of the tubes and pipes required for water supplies are made; also, I live in one of the wettest parts of the United Kingdom. Therefore, I am interested in water.

Through the Parliamentary Secretary I urge upon the Ministry one or two points in the administration of the additional powers being taken under this Bill. One of those powers relates to bringing the water from the mains through what are usually called communication pipes, actually up to the houses. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will have well in mind that in many villages—I was about to say most villages, but perhaps that would be an exaggeration—there is said to be a water supply; but the water supply ends at a pump or tap, to which people have to go over long distances, from many cottages, and in weather of all sorts. I hope these powers will be used, and that my hon. Friend will see they are so used, to supply water not merely to the village, but to the houses in the village.

My second point, on the amendments in this Bill, is that there are a very large number of non-statutory water undertakings of all kinds and sizes, throughout the country. There are some exceedingly odd ones. In one village of my constituency half the village, but not the whole, is supplied by a body called the "copy-holder." Copyholding was abolished in this country some time ago: but the system under which water is supplied to half, and only half, the village still obtains in rural Northamptonshire. I urge that these new powers be exercised by my hon. Friend, so far as they are his, and that he sees they are exercised by local authorities—for they are principally concerned—to remove some of these small and very unsatisfactory non-statutory undertakers. They are unsatisfactory by the mere limitation of their size and their inability to go any further than they have already gone. I am glad to see that the enlarged powers under Clause 2 of this amending Bill are directed to points like supplies in bulk, which ought to be of material assistance.

We have been some time on this amending Bill, and I do not want to detain the House; but I should not like to resume my seat without adding a few words to what has been said by my hon. Friends the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) and the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) on the scope of this Bill. I fully recognise, as we all must do, that there are practical difficulties in introducing a large-scale Measure at present. The Water Act, 1945, is not so very old, and was indeed a great improvement on the state of affairs which existed before. However, one has only to consider the question of water supplies in a very dry county, such as Northamptonshire—necessarily dry because of the character of the subsoil—to realise that even the best arrangements which could be made locally are a poor substitute for a national scheme; and a national scheme should, I believe, be on the lines of the supply of electricity, that is to say, the wholesale distribution of water should and must be a national matter, for the kind of reason given by the hon. Member for Stoke. On the other hand, there are great obstacles to removing the local retail distribution of water completely away from some form of local administration. How far local authorities may be suitable for that purpose seems to me a very moot question.

We have had, and have now, under consideration county schemes for the supply of water in Northamptonshire. The difficulty is not only a lack of water, but the extreme multiplicity of the local authorities concerned, and the innumerable difficulties which arise between them, some of which are substantial and some of which seem to represent local pride and prejudice rather than a realisation of collective responsibility to the community. If we are to tackle the problem of water supply on national grounds we must remember that it cannot possibly be tackled unless the questions of sewage disposal and allied sanitation are considered at the same time. They are equally urgent, but slightly less obvious, and tend to be neglected all too often. The supply of water for domestic purposes is the start of the story, but at the other end is the provision of proper sewerage arrangements.

I welcome this Bill, as I am sure the House welcomes it, so far as it goes. It can be no substitute in the long run for a proper national scheme for the provision of water, particularly in dry areas, a scheme which will take account, not only of water supply, but of the allied questions of sewerage and sanitation.

3.7. p.m.

I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) apologised for being an amateur in this matter, but I must congratulate him on a most informative speech which indicated to me, at any rate, he had made a considerable amount of research into the problem of water supplies. I am sure that his concluding observations about the need for uniformity and efficiency of water undertakings will commend themselves to Members in all parts of the House.

I was more concerned, however, with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), who made an appeal for a more adequate and efficient water supply for the North Staffordshire area, with which I, too, am associated. Britain has been blessed with a great supply of natural water, but there ought not to be the floods which we have seen from time to time. There are two things in this world which ought to be cheap, particularly in Britain—a purified air supply and a plentiful and adequate water supply. There can, of course, he too much water just as there can be too little. Coleridge pointed out, in his "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," that there was:
"Water, water, everywhere.
Nor any drop to drink,"
and that anomalous position can, to some extent, be translated to the situation in some parts of this country. Here, we have a country with a superabundance of water where it is not wanted, in the shape of floods, and a dearth where it is required, in remote hamlets and villages. That dearth of water may be due to the quantity which industries in the area have to take, or to an inadequate pipeline for the supply to the isolated districts. It is astonishing to me that the Lord Mayor of London, who instituted a fund for the victims of the floods last year, has been left with the better part of £1 million, which has not been utilised to deal with cases of distress. That is an anomaly which arises out of a situation which ought to be bettered.

It would take many years of research and study to know all about water supplies, but I am interested in certain aspects of the matter which have come to my attention. I am interested, for instance, in mining subsidence. That involves boring in different parts of the county of North Staffordshire. I understand that authorities responsible for water undertakings in their districts, if they want to bore, and have to acquire land to do so, will have to approach the Ministry for permission. Suppose a recalcitrant land-owner, knowing that the authority requires land for that purpose, raises his price or becomes refractory in some other way. Would the Minister take steps to help that authority?

What is the position with regard to big cities, such as Liverpool. I have been a member of the Liverpool authority for 18 years. On one occasion during my callow stages of that membership, I was taken to Lake Vyrnwy in Wales, which is the source of their water supply. It is a magnificent undertaking, and the water is conserved with great care by a very competent authority. Similarly, in the case of Manchester. I understand that they get their water from Thirlmere and Haweswater. That authority had to make provision for a supply of water in order to ensure the life of a million people in that great city and of two million in the immediate environs. Most people in towns of that size have a good supply of water. What is going to happen if the Ministry is not prepared in the near future to consider the question of bringing together all the multifarious undertakings who cannot undertake to provide an adequate supply of water? I hope that we may devise a means of bringing these undertakings under national control for the supply of water. That should not be a politically controversial subject, and I can imagine hon. Members opposite being prepared to support it in the national interests. I hope that anomalies which now exist may in the future be rectified by a more competent Bill, so that every householder may have an adequate supply of pure water.

During this Debate singularly little has been said about the Bill itself. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) referred to the question of compensation. The Minister is able and willing where he thinks it necessary to attach conditions when he authorises work. We can consider that when we reach the Committee stage of the Bill. There are very great difficulties in making that apply to all existing undertakings. I want now to look at a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack). One of the points of this Measure is that water undertakers will be able to prospect further without actually having to acquire the land. If they find water then they have powers of compulsory acquisition in the ordinary way.

The brunt of the discussion has not been on the Bill but on the complete organisation of our national water supplies. I am going to resist the temptation to be drawn into that field but it is a matter to which I am not indifferent. Indeed, I have been as interested in it as most Members present this afternoon, possibly with a few distinguished exceptions. We are here dealing with a few small changes to the main Act of 1945, under which we have been working since it was passed a little over two years ago. I think it was a little unfortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) let loose his broadside on this little inoffensive Bill—as inoffensive as I am. I think he should have reserved his grand attack for another occasion when we are talking about the economic state of affairs.

The hon. Member represents Stoke and I happen to represent Blackburn. We have got our flooding problems just as much as Stoke has got them. There are similar problems in other cities and towns of the North, where they have flooding. That, however, is not what we are dealing with this afternoon. Some parts of the Debate will be very relevant in a week or two when we come to the Second Reading of the River Boards Bill, when this whole matter can be ventilated. It is all very well to talk about allocations of steel instead of iron and so on. The hon. Member for Stoke, with his Departmental experience, will know the position we are in with regard to the very modest allocations of iron and steel with which we have to work, and he will also know that there are a large number of jobs which ought to be done. All we can do is to take them in the order of their urgency and help as best we can.

I want to make it plain that over the last two years we have been doing our best to secure the material on which we can plan. I am leaving on one side, for the moment, the new powers that may be given, and I am thinking of the powers we have under the 1945 Act as they may be modified under this Bill. We have done a large amount of work, and no Government, even as good as this one is, would be likely to correct, in a relatively short space of time, all the things that are wrong in the water system which has grown higgledy-piggledy and almost haphazardly in the country. Some of the things referred to by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) are matters which have received our attention and on which we have been working along with the National Advisory Council on Water.

One of the things we certainly had to do was to acquire the information, and in a number of different ways we carried out surveys or encouraged the carrying of them out in different parts of the country. We have drawn up plans for new resources and condensations of undertakings, and we have moved in the direction of the standardisation which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading so very much wanted. In the case of London alone, everyone knows the situation is not wholly satisfactory in the Greater London area. We have a departmental committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Moelwyn Hughes. When we have received its report, which is sure to be comprehensive, we shall, I hope, be able to take action under our present powers within the 1945 Act, and begin to see results.

Included in that action we shall not overlook, when we have the facts in front of us, the acquisition of public and private non local authority undertakings. We must look at the whole of the facts. I ask hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House to consider that we have to proceed under the Act of 1945 and that there is an inevitable period in which we are gathering our material and conducting the surveys. Then will come the use of powers under the Act to combine undertakings, to set up advisory committees, and to do all the other things which we hope in due course will give a better service throughout the country. I do not think I need say any more at this stage. One or two other points which have been raised I shall be happy to consider when we come to the Committee stage. The Bill may not create a new heaven and a new earth, but it will make the 1945 Act a little more workable.

Before the Minister sits down will he say a word on the subject of bringing water into the new houses?

All I can say is that we want provision of water in the houses but that the physical difficulties of materials may place very great limitations upon what can be done.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.— [Mr. John Edwards.]