Water Supplies.

– in the House of Commons on 18th April 1935.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]

11.19 a.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I desire to raise a question which is of interest to all parties in the House and which caused grave concern in the country last year. I refer to the position in connection with our water supplies. Before putting certain questions on this point to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, may I remind the House of some of the facts which lie behind the present position. It had been possible prior to the first Labour Government to obtain grants in favour of rural water supplies. The last Labour Government in its first month of office, partly on the intrinsic merits of the case and partly with a view to expanding the area of useful employment, made a substantial increase in the grants payable in respect of new water undertakings in rural areas. The grant payable in approved cases was fixed at 100 per cent. of the interest for seven years, and 50 per cent. of the interest for the remainder of the loan period or eight years whichever was the shorter.

In the following year, 1930, again with a view primarily to the provision of employment, it was my duty to introduce the Public Works Facilities Act of 1930, under which a great deal of money was provided in aid of water schemes. Leaving aside the actual loans which were sanctioned directly by Parliament under local Acts—I am referring to those which operated under the Unemployment Grants Committee—in the year, March, 1930, the amount of loans sanctioned for water schemes of all kinds was £2,318,000. In the following year it had risen to £3,116,000 and in 1932, after the period of the Labour Government, the sum sanctioned was £2,389,000, in addition to which under the Public Works Facilities Act, 1930, sanction had been given for works estimated to cost £830,000. In August, 1931, the first National Government was formed, prior to the Election and in view of what, in its opinion, was the general financial stringency, it reduced the unemployment grants, with the result that there was a contraction in the amount of work carried out on water undertakings. Even the reduced grants were only to apply to schemes commenced prior to the end of January, 1932. It was clear that the rate of progress in the provision of water supply which had previously been attained would not continue. In 1933 the amount sanctioned in loans had shrunk to £1,375,000, in addition to which schemes under the Public Works Facilities Act provided works estimated to cost £123,000. The Ministry of Health report for 1932–33 referring to, the position said: The falling off in the amount of loans sanctioned as compared with last year, which was most marked in rural areas, was to be expected in view of the general financial position, the withdrawal of grants and the large amount of work undertaken in previous years, much of it in advance of requirements with the aid of grants. As regards the special problem of the rural areas the figures of expenditure are extremely interesting. In 1929 the loans sanctioned for purely rural areas amounted to £161,000. In 1930 that figure had risen to £424,000; in 1931 to £680,000 and in 1932 to £917,000, showing an expanding volume of work. In 1933, however, the amount of loans sanctioned for rural water supplies had fallen to £297,000. Last year the sum was a little larger, namely, £391,000. Last year the country was faced with a very serious drought, and the Government were very slow to take action. The only action that was taken early last year was a circular issued in February by the Ministry of Health in connection with this problem, but offering no kind of assistance to the local authorities, and I think indeed it is a fair thing to say that the Government last year endeavoured to minimise the seriousness of the situation with regard to the water supplies of both urban and rural areas.

It was not until the end of March last year that the Rural Water Supplies Act was passed and that a sum not exceeding £1,000,000 was set aside to be devoted to this purpose of assisting rural authorities in the provision of new water supplies. The Parliamentary Secretary 10 days ago, answering a question in the House, did not inform us how much of that £1,000,000 had actually been spent, but he did say that the total capital cost of schemes for which State grants had been made amounted roughly to £3,200,000. That action, I say, was very tardy, and the amount of money which was allocated in a period of one of the worst droughts in living memory was, in our view, inadequate really to deal with the situation. During last summer many Members felt that our organisation with regard to water supplies was inadequate, and questions were put, not merely from these benches but from other benches as well, suggesting that there ought to be some better machinery.

On the 16th July last year the Minister was asked whether he would institute a survey of the water supplies of the country, and his answer was very unsatisfactory. He said that he was always in touch with water undertakers and that he could get information from them from time to time. On the following day the Minister received a deputation from the British Association and the Institution of Civil Engineers, urging upon the Government a complete and systematic survey of the water resources of the country. On the 6th November last the Minister announced in this House that, as a result of the deputation held nearly five months before, he had come to the conclusion that steps ought to be taken to secure a proper survey of our water resources, but even then it was not until February of this year that the personnel and the terms of reference of this Water Survey Committee were announced.

That is the story, and there are certain questions which I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I see, has now arrived, arising out of what I have already said. I should like to ask him how much of that sum of £1,000,000 has actually been disbursed to the local authorities—not merely the capital cost of the schemes that have been approved—how much of it has been provisionally allocated, and then how much he has still got left to play with. Further, I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he is satisfied that the £1,000,000 has been adequate and whether the Government contemplates providing further public money for the assistance of rural authorities in this matter. It will be within the recollection of the House that the Water Supplies (Exceptional Shortage) Orders Act was passed to operate until the end of this year, and I should like to ask whether it is the Government's intention to continue this Act, with the special powers that it gives, or whether it intends to let them lapse. I should further like to ask what the Water Survey Committee is doing, how many times it has met, whether it is undertaking now, actively, a survey of our water supplies, and whether there is any intention of reporting the activities of the Committee from time to time to the House.

More important than all that lies behind these questions is the further question whether the Government are satisfied with the present situation. As I said a little earlier, I think the Government have acted very tardily in this matter. They had to be driven by the pressure of opinion in this House and outside before they would take any action at all to assist the local authorities in the worst areas. The weather is a chancy thing, and no one is quite certain whether there is to be a drought this summer or whether there is to be excessive rainfall. The Parliamentary Secretary said in this House on the 8th April: The average total rainfall for the country as a whole for the six months ended 31st March last, the critical months for the replenishment of water supplies, was above the normal, and urban water undertakers generally are in a good position. Should the necessity arise, powers are available to them to obtain additional water supplies with despatch under the Water Supplies (Exceptional Shortage Orders) Act, 1934, which remains in force until the end of the present year. The primary need in the rural areas is for permanent supplies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1935; col. 794, Vol. 300.] It may be true that for the six winter months, which are the best months of the year from the point of view of water supply, the rainfall was rather higher than the normal, but the call on the available supplies of water last summer was so abnormal that it needs a good deal more than a slightly higher average rainfall in the winter months to make good the situation. We are facing the summer now, with no definite knowledge that the situation will be such as to maintain existing supplies. We do not know whether there will be a drought, and we are entitled to ask the Government whether they mean to take time by the forelock, because if there is one thing that the drought of last year proves it is that mere emergency legislation is useless to deal with a problem of this kind. I should hope that the Government will be prepared to declare that they are not going to allow the situation to develop, should there be a dry season, as they did last year.

That brings me to my final question. Hon. Members on different sides of the House have from time to time pressed for a comprehensive national water policy. The method by what that policy should be carried into effect is a matter for discussion, and I should not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Platting Division (Mr. Chorlton) in all his proposals, but I think it is clear that experience of the last drought and the ever-growing consumption of water for various purposes just now call for a coordinated national policy; and I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is the intention of the Government, instead of having this catchpenny legislation and doing things bit by bit, to elaborate and bring before the House a co-ordinated policy for the conservation of our water supplies and for their proper distribution. Alter all, water is one of the elementary needs of human life, and it is time, now that there is a growing demand for water, that we should have such a policy. I hope that before the Debate closes the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to answer my questions and to inform us whether it is the intention of the Government to develop a policy on national lines.

11.36 a.m.

Photo of Mr Alan Chorlton Mr Alan Chorlton , Manchester Platting

Rarely do I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), but to-day he has been a good deal more temperate than usual in the way in which he has dealt with this problem and I can agree with him in a good deal of what he says. The real difficulty in this problem is the one which he mentioned, namely, the slowness with which the Ministry have tackled this problem. I can never understand the reasons for it. I do not know whether it be excess of caution arising from lack of knowledge or that they are afraid of the difficulties that would be set up by the numerous authorities which would be concerned in working out any policy of a widespread and co-ordinated nature. I should have thought that, as the water supply system of the country presented one of the finest chances of providing employment on a o large scale the Government would have done a good deal more than they have done. My approach to this subject was really made from that side. It seemed to me, looking into the future and studying the statistics of what has been consumed in the country in different areas and the statistics from abroad, that the general trend of water consumption is rising steadily and that the tremendous and increasing housing development in the country tends in the same direction.

All this means, in effect, that in a few years from now the demand for water will be vastly greater than it is now. The demand for water in London will be much greater, perhaps three times greater, than the consumption at the present time. There is even now a fear that in the local supplies of the London district there may again be a shortage during the summer. What is the reason why nothing in the way of a broader and wider understanding of the subject has been shown? The Minister of Health has shown courage in house building to a degree that we must admire, but why his steps have been so faltering when it comes to the question of water is beyond me. The survey to which at long last he agreed, and which goes considerably farther back than the right hon. Member for Wakefield mentioned, has been rather emasculated by the limited terms of reference. It is purely a survey, and when the Government have all the statistics available what will they do with them? Are they to be pigeon-holed? Was the survey only brought about in response to the popular cry? I begged all along that it should cover the question of allocation. It may be that collectively water belongs to all of us, but actually in practice it does not. How are we going, therefore, to allocate the water, as it should be allocated, to the dry areas as well as to those that are nearer the hills? The absence of this question is a limitation which I have regretted very much that the Minister has not seen his way to remove.

I have been charged a good deal for having described something which has been called a water grid. It has suited the purpose of those who have attacked me to distort what I have intended to convey. I have used the electricity grid as a simple analogy—not a direct one—in order to allow those whose minds are limited to the mechanics of the village pump to think a little further than the strict analogy would allow to describe the water side of it. Any engineer knowing something of the two sides of engineering knows the limits of the analogy and where it fails. You can with advantage connect up the different undertakings in the country and then, by establishing national reserves in the water areas, feed that network by a certain limited number of mains. I am not suggesting that that policy should be immediately rushed at, but, when anything in the nature of public works is being considered, surely this is one of those things that might occupy a prominent place, because it shows an advantage over so many other schemes that do not make a return on the capital expenditure. There was a scheme many years ago for drawing water from central Wales by an aqueduct to bring the water to London. That scheme has been discussed on more than one occasion, and it shows, coupled with the large amount of employment that would be provided, a complete safeguard for the future.

The proposals which I put forward were evidently considered of such importance that, although I have tried to get a combined committee to deal with them in the engineering institutions, for reasons which it is not necessary for me to go into, that idea was frustrated, and a committee was formed by the various water institutions themselves. That committee has issued a report. Although it in many ways attacks what I have said, it is a matter of great satisfaction to me to know that what I did say must have been of such importance that the combined committee of three institutions should specifically refer to it in their report. After showing the limitations of what I proposed, this committee proceeds to make proposals of its own, and they are very largely those which have teen put forward by my self and others in different words. Their attitude towards the problem is shown when they say: Water undertakings should remain autonomous, except for the existing measure of control and such further control limited to the specific matters hereinafter mentioned. Their attitude is that the water supply of the country does not want to be in any way guided in a better and more co-ordinated way. They want to remain as early Victorian as they were when they started. The committee proceeds by one article after another to describe their suggestions to improve the situation. It says that the powers and responsibilities of such water department as they suggest should be set up in the Ministry of Health in addition to those now exercised by the Ministry, should be limited to certain duties which it sets out. In other words, they now suggest that a central water authority should be set up, but in order to keep friends with their friends, they say that it should only be a department at the Ministry. I do not quarrel with that, but I have so far seen no attempt to meet the wishes of this committee. If we can get such a guiding department set up within the Ministry, with certain powers conferred on it, then it is likely that the water situation will be dealt with more quickly than is the case now. The report proceeds to deal with the regional advisory committees which are now being set up in order to bring about co-ordination between different local authorities. I have suggested that the policy of appointing regional advisory committees should be continued, and that the new water department within the Ministry should be given statutory powers to sanction water schemes, to grant cheap loans and, generally, to facilitate the carrying out of various works without the necessity of having recourse to Parliament. While it is not mentioned in this particular report, many other reports have referred to the delays and expense occasioned by the necessity to promote Bills.

The main question I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to-day is: What steps are being taken in the Ministry to set up this central department, or guiding hand, or whatever it is going to be called, as suggested in the report of the water authorities who have been calling for a national water policy? As to methods of development I could refer hon. Members to a number of articles which have been written on the subject, for some of which I have myself been responsible. It has been suggested that a scheme should be worked out under which areas in the hills with a heavy rainfall will supply water, by suitable trunk mains, to those parts of the country where it is required. The wet spot of England is in the Lake District, the annual rainfall of that place exceeding 100 inches. It is suggested in this report that I have changed my mind, but I have not; I have merely tried to explain things in greater detail, because I found that to be necessary in order to meet the Victorian views of the elderly gentlemen who base their ideas of a water supply on the analogy of the village pump.

I would like to carry the comparison with other common supplies a little further. We have had the analogy of the electricity grid, but are told that that is not a fair comparison, because water is very different from electricity—as it is—though, as everybody knows, when starting the study of electricity the easiest way of gaining an understanding of it is to take the analogy of water, the comparison being relatively close. Let us take the gas position. Gas is now being supplied through gas grids. Practically the whole of Belgium is supplied through a gas grid controlled by an English company. All the industrial districts of Germany are linked to a gas grid which goes as far as Hanover and down to Hesse, and will ultimately go across to Silesia. That is one illustration of this method of common supply, under which one district can help another district, and supplies can be drawn from the best possible centre. We have actually started the gas grid system in this country. There is a gas grid in the district stretching between Sheffield and Doncaster. The argument that water is different from these other commodities may satisfy those who make use of the argument, but it cannot satisfy those who know anything about the subject in a broad way.

It may be that there is some explanation for the Minister's attitude towards this question of developing our water supplies, but I feel that he has been very faint-hearted, very timid, very frightened. He has power to spend £1,000,000 to assist the development of rural water supplies, but the work is not being carried on anything like so fast as one had hoped it would be. Instead of urging local authorities to go forward, and encouraging them to join together and connect up their mains, he seems only to have used the engineering knowledge of his staff in giving them advice to prevent them from going wrong in any of their plans. He has allocated only half the million pounds so far, and I do not know how much of that has actually been spent, but I suggest that it is probably not more than £250,000. In view of the unemployment which exists in the country that is a very timid way of handling an important problem, and, although this may not be the occasion for going into the matter in great detail, I feel we ought to be assured that some more vigorous policy will be pursued than has been carried out up to date. We should like to feel that there will be no further risk of a water shortage in any part of the country, and that provision is being made to anticipate a greatly increased demand in the future, and generally, that much more vigorous action will be taken.

11.52 a.m.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Swindon

I should like to stress certain facts in connection with the rural side of this problem. Many of us who have taken an interest in this matter for some time past will welcome the intervention of the hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton), who knows so much about the question. I am afraid that I do not feel called upon to be quite so timid in my reflections on the inactivity of the Minister of Health as he was, no doubt because he is a loyal supporter of the present Government. He need not search very far for an explanation of the timidity of which he complains. The reason for it is that the Minister, whether under instructions or otherwise, does not want to spend any money. Not only arc the reflections of the hon. Member fully justified, but the Government stand convicted in this matter of gross and culpable neglect. We have had two years of drought and all the Government have done, after having curtailed and brought to nought as far as they could the efforts which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) had started and which were developing rapidly for the improvement of the rural water supplies, has been to make this pettifogging grant and to set up a committee, with very limited terms of reference, to make a survey. I noticed that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was here a few minutes ago, and I would recall, as one who in another capacity in other days was concerned with the initiation of this work, that in 1921 a committee of the Board of Trade which investigated our water resources reported as follows: We find the difficulty in fairly allocating water is becoming greater year by year in England and Wales, and the evidence we have heard proves beyond doubt the urgent necessity, in the national interests, of some measure of control of all water, both underground and surface, in order that the available supplies may be impartially reviewed and allocated and may be made to suffice for all purposes in the future. That is a recommendation, 14 years ago, of a committee of the Board of Trade which was set up in the post-war period, and which, as I know, for I was intimately associated, went with great care into this matter. Since then, especially during the last three years, affairs have become much worse. What is the method of approach that has been adopted? Apart from this survey, with the very limited terms of reference and with no power to do much, as the hon. Member who has just spoken said, it has been to encourage village undertakings of a very limited kind, and, so far, they appear to amount to grants in prospect figuring, we will say, altogether £500,000. Really, it is playing with the subject. The eastern counties of England, and certainly a large part of Suffolk and a good deal of Norfolk, are to a great extent sterilised in their agricultural development because of inefficient water supply.

Take some parts of the county of Suffolk as an illustration. The rainfall there is about a quarter of what it is in the west of England, and much less than a quarter of what it is in the Lake District to which the hon. Member just referred, but if it were well supplied it has some of the best pasture land in this country. The ordinary requirement—coming down to details—is 25 gallons of water per day per dairy cow, and I will undertake to say there is a considerable percentage of farms in that county which are inadequately supplied with water to meet the needs of a decent-sized herd. A horse requires 15 gallons a day, and it is quite impossible to develop the agricultural resources of that part of England until an adequate and a generous water supply is made available. What applies to Suffolk particularly applies to many other counties, and it is an exception in going up and down rural England to find a farm and a village adequately supplied with water, not only for human requirements, but for the purpose of developing the possibilities of the district.

This matter cannot be dealt with unless we have regard to making the best use of the supplies of water, whether underground or on the surface. It is well known—at least the engineers tell us, and my hon. Friend who has just spoken knowsߞthat there are in some parts of the country very large underground supplies of water. What is the use of a village putting a pumping station here and another village deciding to put down another pumping station to supply a few houses in the village? That is not going to develop the possibilities of the farms in the district, and, in any case, it is grossly extravagant to duplicate your apparatus. Some day or other, when the Ministry of Health wakes up to the fact that water runs down, hill, and therefore the sensible way is to get the whole area supplied in accordance with a proper engineering plan, all these little interests which will have sprung up will be vested interests standing in the way of forming a proper rational system of supply.

My hon. Friend referred to the old jealousies, with which we are all so familiar, which immediately crop up whenever a rational scheme of collection and supply is undertaken. Whatever happens, we are told that the water undertakings must remain "autonomous." It was not long ago in this House that a reference was made to the observations of some unfortunate agricultural labourer who was straining some green liquid through some cloth in order to get water for his tea, while alongside, as he knew, there was a glorious water main coming from a splendid reservoir. That applies to thousands of cases up and down the country. Until the matter is, or can be put, on a national basis, there will be no possibility of linking up or making use of these different undertakings which have already been developed. I see that the hon. Member for Platting, speaking before the Royal Society of Arts, I think it was on 31st January, 1934, referred to these undertakings as follows: So much has this individualism persisted"— which the Minister of Health is now wishing to perpetuate even down to the village pump— that to-day we have no less than 1,100 separate water undertakings in this country, and water supply remains the outstanding example of the laissez faire policy of the age of industrial expansion and Victorian times. A study of the map reveals the mosaic of disconnected entities, a very jig-saw puzzle in their interlocking boundaries. That is the reflection of the hon. Member for Platting, and, obviously, it is sound commonsense. It means that the right thing to do is to have a National Authority which will secure the proper linking-up of the water undertakings in the same way as in the case of electricity. We are all too well aware of the difficulties which always arise, the haggles which crop up when we try to secure a sensible, co-ordinated supply, whether of water, electricity, gas or anything else in any district. But the Electricity Commissioners have managed gradually, by pressure, and by the development of a sensible, rational system, to work into their scheme of supply—not yet of distribution, thanks to the Act of 1925, but, at all events, into their scheme of supply—the existing undertakings. It has been a difficult matter, and the existence of a large number of separate undertakings has made their task more difficult. Still, they are succeeding in welding them into one general system of electricity supply. What can be done for electricity can be, and should be, done for water. It is not a question of political opinion, but merely of common sense.

In my view, and in the view of everybody, politics apart, who has looked at how we have been developing in this country in the last three years, the Ministry of Health have neglected to use a great opportunity. Not only so, but, by their pettifogging policy of trying to develop the supply and distribution of water in terms of parish units, instead of the proper use of water resources, they are creating a large number of petty and obstinate vested interests which some day will have to be dealt with, but which will stand in the way of a rational system. The Ministry of Health takes no account at all of the real needs of the country and the way in which water may be used enormously to develop productive resources. I know that in the surveys we made at the Ministry of Agriculture into the possibility of developing here and there horticulture and other forms of cultivation, one of the first questions that cropped up every time was, "What about water supply?" It is the first thing that anybody asks who looks into these matters. Horticultural supplies to Covent Garden market are greatly prejudiced in districts that could be very profitably used for that purpose simply because of the lack of an adequate water supply. Those districts never will be supplied until we decide to constitute a responsible national authority with adequate powers to make full use of the existing undertakings to secure that the houses of the people and the land are fully supplied with water.

It is not as though we had not any water. We have plenty of water during the year. I remember introducing a Drainage Act to see that we managed to carry the water away instead of it flooding the land. Taking one year with another, Providence sends us plenty of water. I suggest that it is time the Minister of Health pulled himself together and decided to confront the veto of the Treasury. Everybody knows perfectly well that that is what is the matter. The Ministry want to make a show of doing something without spending any money; that is the plain English of it. Everybody who has been inside a Government department will understand what has happened during the list three years in the interchange of communications between different Ministers on this matter. If he wishes permanently to enrich the country, I exhort the Minister of Health to lift his eyes above the parish pump and to see the great reservoirs of supplies that Nature has already provided; let him fashion a scheme that will make proper use of them.

12.11 p.m.

Photo of Sir Annesley Somerville Sir Annesley Somerville , Windsor

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) has been true to his reputation, as usual, as a generous distributor of public funds. The Land Drainage Act which he was instrumental in passing in 1930 provides machinery which to some extent helps to deal with the present question. The hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) referred to London's water supplies and has told us that in a few years the amount of water required by the London district will probably be greatly increased. There are two bodies who deal with London's water supply, the Metropolitan Water Board and the Thames Conservancy. As a member of the latter body, I may perhaps be allowed to say a word on the subject.

Those two bodies are fully alive to the vital necessity of seeing that London is adequately supplied with water. The Thames Conservancy have the duty of conserving the water of the Thames Valley for the supply of London and the Metropolitan Water Board have the duty of distributing it. The Metropolitan Water Board have shown themselves conscious of the necessity of providing for the future by reason of the Bill which is now before the House to provide for two very large additional reservoirs. It is necessary to have those reservoirs. What are the Thames Conservancy doing in the matter? By the Act which was passed under the administration of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon, the Thames Conservancy were made the drainage authority for the Thames Valley, and certain sections of the chief tributaries of the Thames were added to the main river. Another duty of the Conservancy is to prevent floods as far as that be possible. The prevention of floods and the conserving of London's water supply are, to a certain extent, contradictory, because, if there are districts up river which are marshy, they act as sponges, as natural reservoirs, to retain the water. The people of those districts very naturally want the marshes drained, but, if you drain them, the water runs off more quickly, and the supply is lost to the country altogether.

The Thames Conservancy having become the land drainage authority for the whole of the Thames Valley have already in their power certain sections of the main tributaries which contain weirs. Some of those weirs are obsolete, but the Thames Conservancy are in process of repairing and renewing some of them. If, and when, in conjunction with the counties the Thames Conservancy takes over the whole of those tributaries, as may well be the case, and which is probably what the right hon. Gentleman opposite recommends, the Thames Conservancy can gradually re-weir the whole of the tributaries by putting in the weirs which are necessary, and in that way control more effectually the water supplies of London. An hon. Member has referred to the possibility of bringing water from Wales for the supply of London. That was discussed some years ago, but the cost is almost prohibitive. If you can provide, with a river like the Thames and with its tributaries, against all the ordinary possibilities of drought, that seems the wisest course to take. I thought it would be of interest to the House to know that the two bodies responsible for the water supply of London are fully alive to their responsibilities and are taking steps to provide for the future.

12.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

It is appropriate before we adjourn that the very important question of water supply should be raised, but I am rather anxious about it, because on previous occasions when water has been discussed in the House the debate has been followed by a succession of wet days. We have not always suffered from drought, and I shall take the liberty of blaming the Opposition for raising the water supply question on this occasion should the debate prove to be a prelude to a wet Easter. A practical and sensible contribution has been made by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville), but we have had a number of speeches on water supply which bore no relation to the facts. All last year it was my privilege to hear water debates, and we had to listen to the gloomy Cassandras telling us what would be the effect of drought and how the larger urban areas were in jeopardy. I used to leave this House with a parched throat, and anxiously to turn on the bath tap when I got home. But the plain fact remains that, in spite of the hopeless inadequacy of our water supply, in spite of the pettifogging policy of the Ministry of Health, this country last year weathered the worst drought in British history, with no hardship suffered in any of the areas under urban undertakers—I am leaving out the rural areas for the moment—and with hardly any incon- venience suffered in the areas covered by the 1,500 large undertakings. That is a complete answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton). Nevertheless, the existence of the drought did reveal certain respects in which water policy was inadequate. The House will remember that we passed an emergency Bill giving complete powers to undertakers to dispense with all preliminaries and to take water where they could find it. So far, 36 Orders have been issued by the Minister. Half of them concern new sources of supply, and half deal with the temporary reduction of compensation water. But there is no doubt that the existence of these powers enabled undertakers to make arrangements which they would not otherwise have made but for the fact that these powers lay in the background.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) asked for an appreciation of the present position and the outlook. I say emphatically that at the present time the outlook is encouraging. A year ago the reservoirs were depleted, and we had an unparalleled and prolonged drought, but the position is quite otherwise to-day. As everybody knows, we have had more than the normal supply during the last six months. The reservoirs are now full. We have been in touch with some of the large undertakers, and the matter was discussed only yesterday with our advisory committee, who have confirmed the view I am now expressing, that, owing to the efficiency of the water supply of this country— I am dealing with urban undertakings—we can, even if we have a dry summer, look forward with no apprehension in any quarter of the country. So much for the gloomy prophecies of my hon. Friend, who seems to think that to him alone is vouchsafed the gift of prophecy in this matter.

Photo of Mr Alan Chorlton Mr Alan Chorlton , Manchester Platting

My prophecies are not gloomy. I am only asking the Government to prepare for expansion in future.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

My hon. Friend never does justice to the efficiency of the present position; he never does justice to what the Ministry is doing. He forgets altogether that since the War over £60,000,000 of capital work has been undertaken in connection with water in this country. As for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison), he has always taken the line that, ever since he left the Ministry of Health, it has become completely inefficient. I assure him that that is not so. The work of the Ministry of Health in regard to water supply has involved a great strain on the Department. We coped with the emergency; we have considerably increased our staff; and, as the general position shows, the steps that we have taken saved the situation last year, and we can now face the future with great confidence.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Swindon

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that within the last three weeks water has actually been transported in carts within 40 miles of London?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

I am coming to the rural position in a moment, but there are some farms in this country where they have always carted water, and always will, in spite of any national policy. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that any national policy will enable water to be supplied to some of the very scattered areas in this country without bankrupting their taxpayers and ratepayers, he is living in a world of pure delusion and fantasy. I disagree with him fundamentally. The main question in connection with water supply is that of choosing the right unit. It is fantastically wasteful to have grandiose schemes for water supply when in fact the economic unit of supply and production usually lies within the urban district.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Swindon

You have not a scheme at all.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

The right hon. Gentleman does not understand the water policy. He has not to my knowledge intervened in these Debates before. He intervened unfortunately in regard to housing last time, but has not done so since. Perhaps he will allow me to develop my argument, and will listen to my account of what has been done and what we are doing. In the urban areas the problem, for the most part, is primarily a local problem, but we have always to recognise that there are larger geographical areas, according to watershed and physical conditions, where co-operation and planning are necessary. There are at this moment eight regional committees functioning, serving a population of about 14,000,000. That is a good and wise policy, and where it is found that in the large areas of population coordination between water undertakers—inter-connection, if you like—is the best policy, that is being done. This stimulation of regional development has been going on very actively. During the last year we have appointed a special liaison engineer, who has succeeded in getting a good measure of co-operation in the West Riding of Yorkshire, for example, where hitherto the progress has been rather dilatory.

The rural problem, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, is really a special one. It is a question of getting a permanent supply. The position in rural areas has always been chronic, but I claim that the measures taken last year by the Government are well on the way to breaking the back of the problem, even in the rural areas. I will try to prove that statement. We were granted a capital sum of £1,000,000. It is known that in just over 2,000 parishes the drought showed the position to be acute owing to the absence of a permanent supply. Let us see what progress has been made. We estimated, when the grant started to operate, as from March of last year, that just over 2,000 parishes required permanent schemes, and we estimated that, if we could allocate this grant and get the schemes in operation within three years, we should be moving at a reasonable rate. In point of fact the progress has exceeded our expectation. The schemes on which grants have been allocated have reached a capital value of £3,200,000, and cover some 1,100 parishes. In addition, about £500,000 of loans have been sanctioned in respect of 200 parishes.

Last year, therefore, action has been taken and grants have been allocated or loans made in respect of a total of £3,700,000. This is the policy of gross and culpable negligence to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. If we compare the total of £3,700,000 in one year with the average loans sanctioned since the War, including the period when the Labour party were in office and when the Unemployment Grants functioned, the average for the last 10 years was £425,000, and I think that, in the judgment of any reasonable person, shows the intense activity in Which the Ministry of Health has been engaged. Indeed, since the war period a total of £5,000,000 has been spent in rural areas. Therefore, again, the figure for the one year makes a striking contrast.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me how much of the grant of £1,000,000 had been allocated? Just over £500,000, and we anticipate that the balance will be allocated this year. We have dealt with 1,300 parishes, and at this moment there are in the Ministry 300 applications from further parishes, and we estimate that we shall approve something like £3,000,000 worth of capital schemes in rural areas in the coming year. To sum up, schemes in respect of 1,600 parishes have already been prepared and in 600 schemes are being formulated. That means that in these areas, within a year or two, owing to the policy of stimulation which has been encouraged by the Ministry of Health, they will have a permanent source of supply, and that ought to gratify even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison). So my advice to hon. Members is, "Cheer up!" The hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) can go on his Easter holiday with the knowledge that we are breaking the back of this problem. The drought was an evil or a blessing in disguise like so many of our problems. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman remembers the hymn which we sometimes sing: Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,The clouds ye so much dreadAre big with mercy, and shall breakIn blessings on your head. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield asked some questions about the progress of our inland water survey. Here we have recognised for some time that we need full information as to the water resources of this country, and the House will remember that though we collect this information from time to time and have a body of information in the Ministry owing to the ordinary routine work of our engineers, we thought it advisable to appoint a strong committee early this year under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Lyons, who has had a long experience of water survey in Egypt. He is assisted by an independent committee of scientists and technical men, and it is their task to collect records as to the flow of rivers and streams and records as to underground levels. Two meetings have already been held. They are pursuing their inquiries actively, and they will be a permanent standing committee to correlate and evaluate the evidence and give reliable information as to the actual water resources of this country. I believe that this body of information will be of great assistance to water undertakers, scientists and all consumers of water. I was asked when they would issue a report. They will certainly issue an annual report, but I imagine that from time to time they will publish statistics as regards particular rivers and so forth which may be of assistance. If the policy of the Government in the realms of water supply is judged by the ordinary, honest, prudent man, I do not fear his judgment at all.

Let me repeat that to have withstood without any hardship the severest drought in our history and to have taken steps to overcome a position which has always been chronic in rural areas, shows, at least, that we are grappling with the gravity of the problem and are taking steps to overcome it. I neither apologise in this House nor outside for our water policy. In fact, I do not apologise for any of the Government's policy. On every item of our policy one can go to any informed audience and get a sympathetic and enthusiastic hearing. I was asked what steps we are taking to implement national policy. The time will come, of course, when our regional committees are properly functioning, and not before, when we shall be able to link up their work. We have at the present moment a system, which, I think, is the best national policy, and that is, to leave the primary undertakers to do their proper jobs and to assist them in every way possible and to co-ordinate their efforts with this new body of information. We shall be able to provide a well-organised water policy on real national lines. I claim that taking it at large the Government are adequately carrying out a policy in the country which will provide the best water supply in the world, and the steps that we are now taking will rectify some of the minor deficiencies and make our whole policy waterproof in the whole field of our activities.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

There are two questions which the hon. Gentleman did not answer. One was whether the Government contemplate a further grant after the expenditure of £1,000,000, and the other was whether they have it in mind to continue the operations of the Emergency Act of last year, which ceases, to operate in December?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

Whether we are to have a further grant must depend upon the situation towards the end of the year. As to continuing the emergency powers, if we get another summer of exceptional drought we may have to ask Parliament for the extension of those powers, but I think that, on the whole, the chances are that they will lapse in 1935, because they have already fulfilled. their purpose.