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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 Thomas Levy Mr Thomas Levy , Elland

The White Paper has already been described as a preliminary canter, so that the Minister can collect the opinions of the House in view of prospective legislation. I, for one, am very disappointed with the White Paper. It hardly touches the fringe of the subject. When we had a Debate a little while ago on Anglesey, I came away with the impression that the Minister's reference to the White Paper, which he was proposing to produce, meant that he would put forward a national plan for a national water supply. The widest stretch of imagination would not enable anyone to suggest that the plan before us is a national plan to deal with a national water supply.

Let me begin with something about which I think we can all agree. I think we must all agree that a good water supply and its complementary drainage, are vital to the health of the community. The next point is that it is desirable, if not essential, to the whole of the country to have a tap water supply sufficient for the animal as well as for the human popula- tion. Obviously, it would have to be accompanied by adequate drainage. If we agree on those fundamental principles, the question then arises of the method to be adopted to carry them into effect. It is of very little use to talk about redistribution and dispersal of the population, housing schemes, and location of industry, when none of those things can be efficient or effective without water supply and drainage. The Minister said during the last Debate that 95 per cent. of the population already had a water supply. What he did not say was that that supply covered only three-tenths of the area of England and Wales, and that the other seven-tenths of that area was practically without proper water supply and drainage. I am not proposing to deal with Scotland in my observations or criticisms, because its problems are different and I will leave them to be dealt with by Scottish Members themselves.

For the past 10 or 12 years, playing practically a lone hand, if I may say so—and that will be within the recollection of many older Members of this House—I have advocated a national water supply and drainage for the whole country. As far back as 1934, the plan that I advocated was that there should be at the top a National Water and Drainage Board, that the country should be divided into watershed areas, that each of these watershed areas should have Regional Commissioners and that their duty should be to see to it that water and drainage were efficiently provided within those areas. I am pleased to say that the British Waterworks Association, in the report they issued only as recently as February, support the scheme that I have now outlined, which I have outlined for the last 10 years. The function of the Regional Commissioners should be, among other things, to see that proper reservoirs are constructed within those areas that will be common to all, in order to get a proper distribution of water. Furthermore, their duty should also be to construct proper purification plants in order to see that the streams and rivers are not polluted. I disagree fundamentally with my right hon. and learned Friend that these purification plants should be the function of the River Boards. Obviously they should be the function of the drainage and sewage control on the land and the responsibility should be theirs to see that the streams and rivers are not polluted.

What does this White Paper propose? It proposes the perpetuation of all these small local authorities and private undertakings that have been in existence, in the majority of cases, for 60, 50, 40 years, all this haphazard patchwork waste that has been going on ineffectively and inefficiently. It proposes the perpetuation of that, with perhaps some amalgamations over wide areas, and that, I would say, this year, next year, sometime or never.

The Minister cannot give us any time when this is to be brought to fruition. I can imagine him going to the Treasury and saying, "We want a national scheme both for water and drainage." And when they got an approximation of the total amount they were horrified and said, "Impossible. What we can do is to give you £21,000,000 —£6,000,000 is for Scotland, so we will wipe that out. "—£15,000,000 for England and Wales. Cut that in half, giving £7,500,000 for drainage, and £7,500,000 for water. Now run away and be good boys. Do the best you can with it. We know we shall not be called upon to make any Treasury contribution for years to come, but you will satisfy the House, and we hope you will satisfy the country. "This will not satisfy the House or the country. Water is vital. Drainage is its complementary. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture laughs. He would not laugh if he lived in a house in a rural district and had to carry water for miles. I do not consider it a joke. This is no laughing matter. If there is anything more vital to the health and well-being of this country I would like to know what it is.

With regard to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, I would point out that dairy farmers cannot cool their milk or wash their utensils. No wonder the Government want to pasteurise all the milk. Of course, the whole thing is iniquitous—to think that we in this country, after all these years, are in a state, in some cases, no better than a West African village. The Minister wants to perpetuate that. He wants to put the burden on the local authorities and private enterprise, or their combination. Is there any Member in this House who really believes that the local authorities are capable of administering the water and drainage out of the rates, however much they have got to do? Just think what the Minister of Health is asking. There is education. Local authorities come up with the rates. There is housing. Local authorities come up with the rates. All these new amenities are promised in this new world we are to create. Local authorities will have to come up with the rates, and now the local authorities, by means of county councils, are to pay for this system out of the rates, and they are to get a grant-in-aid. How much is there when it is divided over the whole country, over England and Wales? It just does not make sense; it just cannot do the trick, and it is no use pretending that it can.

It is only side-stepping this issue, as I said in 1934. We had a similar Debate then. The Government came up with £1,000,000 then, and I told them it was no use, and it is not any use. It is no use telling me the quantity of rainfall we receive. What I am concerned about is the amount of water conserved. As to all these surveys, the pigeon holes of the Ministry of Health are bursting with all these geological surveys and reports on conditions ad infinitum. I do not think there is an inch of this territory that has not been surveyed many times, and all these surveys and committees have only been used to side step the real issue. Perhaps it comes rather curiously from these benches and from a Conservative that I should be advocating the nationalisation of the water supply.