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Water Supply

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 3rd May 1944.

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Photo of Mr Alexander Walkden Mr Alexander Walkden , Bristol South

I note the correction, but, still, advisory bodies nowadays become very self-important and very concerned about their powers, and if their advice is not taken they can become very awkward, and, instead of being helpful to the Minister, can be quite otherwise. We should have preferred a National Water Commission, to be responsible to the Minister—an effective, small body, with a chairman, acting as Lord Ashfield does for the London Passenger Transport Board, responsible for co-ordinating the whole job and making a good straight business of it. I ask the Minister to reconsider that aspect of his suggestions, and see if he cannot set up the proper body, clothed with real authority and with full compulsory powers, to effect the reorganisation by modernisation and standardisation.

If all the present water supply bodies are unified, and all the minor equipment standardised, with all the apparatus of supply, under a single administration, very large-scale economies will result. There must be an awful lot of waste from these thousand big and little bodies. If you standardised them into one concern, you would get them modernised and secure mass production of the things they all need in large quantities, so that replacements could be carried out without loss of time.

The water supply question is not a little local matter. It is a matter for the nation as a whole, and should not be tangled up with local authorities. There is a glimpse of what ought to be done in the proposals regarding the rivers. The whole scheme should be based on the physical geography of the country. The watersheds and rivers are the proper foundation, not the political areas of local authorities. I ask the Minister to think again, and to think nationally. I am glad he is a lawyer. I always admire lawyers, who are always very helpful and very understanding. May I commend to the right hon. and learned Gentleman one truly blessed word which figures in Acts of Parliament, a very present help in time of trouble? When you have a lot of complexities and all sorts of diversities, one word will solve them, if you put it in your Bill, the word "Notwithstanding." Notwithstanding anything in any other Act of Parliament, any concern which has any power to get in the way and hinder the progress of your plans must go. If you take that line and adopt that method, you can sweep away the present lack of system and institute something good for it in our time. I hope this will be done in the Minister's own time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says "As long as I am here." That is the worst of it, Ministers come and go, but I want him while he is here to create a great authority to bear his name, and be of real benefit to the whole country, not merely to rural areas. Water poisoned a lot of people at Lincoln a few years ago, and we had another instance at Croydon some time back. We must make it impossible for that sort of thing to recur, and organize throughout the whole country a sound and perfect water system, because God has given us an abundance—a super-abundance, sometimes—of this very essential element of human life. I ask the Minister not to retain the mentality of the good people who go to church and say "One step enough for me"—the one step of control —but to go all the way and give us a first class, outright, national policy.