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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 Sloan Mr Alexander Sloan , South Ayrshire

We have roamed a good bit, from the Roman invasion to the Highland clearances, and out of that wide range we ought to be able to arrive at some decent conclusion. In examining a White Paper such as this one looks first for its virtues and secondly for its defects. I generally look at a paper of this kind for the good things in it. After giving it a little consideration, I think the proposals are a sound advance in coping with the water situation in Scotland. It is generally true that our water system has grown up piece-meal without effective co-ordination. Up to the present it has been every local authority for itself and "de'il tak' the hindmost." It is a wonder that our services are as good as they are, having evolved in such a haphazard way. But the time is long overdue for a complete overhaul, as is designed in this Paper.

If I have any severe criticism to offer, it is that the proposals do not go far enough, and that a system of larger areas would make the situation far better than this Paper does. The statement is made that, with her generous rainfall and fine catchment areas, Scotland abounds in water resources more than ample to meet all fair demands. Scotland is a land of river and flood. We have an excessive rainfall and some of the finest catchment areas in the world. The remarkable thing is that in such a situation we should have areas which have not, so far, secured an adequate water supply. If you have no adequate water supply you have no drainage. The first is the essential of the other. Whenever an area has a poor water supply it has defective sanitation.

These proposals should make it doubly certain that supplies find their way into the regions that most require them. I do not want to exaggerate the difficulties of a water scheme. I know the difficulties that will be encountered from local and sectional interest. We have experienced them during all the years in which I have served on public bodies. Many of these difficulties could have been met in some of the areas if the local authorities had been prepared to have a little give and take. In 1933, the Ayrshire council promoted a Provisional Order Bill, in an attempt to unify the water supplies in that county, but it was met by the sternest opposition from all the local authorities and water undertakings. They fought the Bill tooth and nail, and ultimately it was turned down. The reason for it was that the opponents thought the landward part of the county was after their water supplies. They thought that we wanted to make them pay more than they were paying, or that by sharing their water with the landward part of the county, it would cost them more, or that the control of the little pettifogging water schemes, many of which were only glorified duck ponds, would pass out of their hands. The result was that Ayrshire county council spent scores of thousands of pounds to put their water supply in order, and in the intervening ten years they have done that. In the whole of the county to-day there is only one small village which has not a piped water supply.

I hope that in the Bill that is brought forward to carry out the White Paper scheme attention will be paid to the rural areas outside the villages. I have never been able to understand the attitude of crowded populations, municipalities and boroughs to the unification of water services. Ayrshire, which is typical of many others, is a dairy farming county. Unless you have a good water supply you cannot have a clean milk supply. Without an adequate water supply you cannot have up-to-date dairy farms. Without up-to-date dairy farms you cannot have the milk. One is complementary to the other, so that it is as necessary for the towns as it is for the rural areas, that the rural areas should have a water supply. The Minister of Health was asked about the effect the proposals would have on the local rates. That has been to a large extent the bugbear, in connection with not only water supplies, bat many other amenities. The question of a few coppers on the rates has a terrifying effect on people. Local elections as far as I can remember have been fought, not on the amenities that should be provided, not on whether improvements should be made to schools, water supplies or roads, but on the question whether the rates could be kept where they were or reduced by one penny or twopence. It is one of the tragedies of local government that people have to keep one eye on the rates they are going to pay and the other on the amenities that should be provided in the public interest. Of course, improved water supplies will affect the rates.

I hope that when the Bill is introduced provision will be made for greater assistance to areas where there are low rateable valuations. I am in a better position to ask for that because I represent what is probably the one county in Scotland that will benefit the least under this scheme, as a great amount of work which might have shared in the grants has already been done. I do not say, of course, that we have not a great deal to do. We are looking for counties to develop and for improvements in housing. We do not know what the industrial situation will be or where populations will settle down or industries develop. Future development may mean that we shall require a great deal more water than we have at the present time. I hope that a wider vision will be taken and that provision will be made to carry the water to the outlying places. If we are to settle people on the land, if we are to ask them to live in what are termed outlandish places, we must provide them with amenities. We must give them the best type of houses and the best social amenities so that they will be able to live their lives as decently and happily as they could in the towns.

This White Paper will go a long way 10 secure that end. I have no very severe criticism to make of it, but when we see the Bill we may have a great deal more to say. As far as we can visualise it, the £6,000,000 will go a long way to help our local authorities. I am all in favour of the larger area. The question is postulated, what are we going to do with the special water areas? I would say without any compunction that they ought to be scrapped. In 1930 we had in the county of Ayr 46 different water schemes supplying 46 different localities, and they each thought that their water was the elixir of life. They each thought that their two-or three-inch pipes running into a village was the finest water scheme in the world. The reason was that they had no system of judging because they were not large enough to have an expert on the job. When they were finally examined, many of them were found to be unfit for use. When we had proper control, the bulk of them were scrapped and those that remained entered the larger scheme.

When we have begun to do this job on a bigger scale we shall not have any difficulty. We all recognise clearly that water is the one thing that cannot be handed out in drops. There is no necessity for many of the danger notices that one sees: "Watch that you do not use too much water." There is more water falling from the heavens in Scotland any hour of the day than any Scotsman is likely to use in his lifetime. There was the Minister who never had a bath for 13 years. He would have difficulty in preaching that cleanliness was next to godliness. There is not the slightest doubt that these proposals will put us on the right road. Six million pounds is a hefty sum, but this is a hefty job. Water is our first line of defence in our health services and our first line of offence in our attack against disease. This White Paper is a fair attempt to remedy many of the defects and to enable the local authorities to adjust their schemes in order to bring water where it never flowed before. People will realise that what is good for one is good for all, and that. those living in remoter parts of the country are entitled to the same amenities as those who live in the towns. When we reach that happy phase, we shall be able to get busy and to do the job. and the provisions of the White Paper will help us.