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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 William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and Western

Scottish Members who have spoken in the Debate appreciate very much that so many of them have had an opportunity of taking part, and in order to show my gratitude I shall be as brief as possible. I should like to support what has been said by way of appreciation of the White Paper. I feel that we must welcome with a great deal of satisfaction the hope it holds out that a really determined effort is at last to be made by the Government to bring a wholesome supply of piped water to the homes of our rural workers. An hon. Member sitting on these benches made a curious reference which I did not follow. He said that we should have to buy our water. I see it rather differently. Water is an elementary service of present day civilisation and a complete, organised supply to the whole of the country is long overdue. There cannot be any development in our countryside, big or small, industrial or agricultural, without a proper organised supply of piped water in advance.

It is incredible that in a country like Scotland, so rich in water resources—far more so than England—a third of our rural population still lack the amenity of a piped water supply. With an abundance of water in our country, our problem is to put that water where it is required. That sums up the whole problem of supply in Scotland. I think I am right in saying—I speak as an agricultural Member—that we know, broadly speaking, that our industrial districts are comparatively well served throughout Scotland. Scotland's water problem is one of supply to the rural areas and to our farmers. Whatever we may think about encouraging manufacturing interests in Scotland atter the war—and I think our Minister has done more than many people appreciate for post-war industrial Scotland—agriculture clearly is, and always will be, the main and abiding industry of our country. The difficulties of rural areas in the past seem to have been inability to meet the expense of satisfactory water schemes because of sparse populations and because of de-rating. For people remote from sources of supply the cost has always been far more than they could bear, so that only by generous grants from public funds towards the cost of schemes, great and small, and by co-operation of local authorities, can the difficulties be met.

For that reason I welcome the financial proposals in the White Paper. I also welcome the passage relating to the powers proposed to be given to the Secretary of State for Scotland to compel local authorities to co-operate in order to combine their water supplies. I think that Measure is essential. I could give many examples of absurd water anomalies, from my own constituency. I will give only two. In the town of Crieff there is abundance of water, but the supply is restricted to borough ratepayers. One hundred yards down the street, beyond the borough boundary, farmers and cottagers are without water at all. There is the town of Muthill, only three miles away from Crieff, but its supply goes dry in the summer and the people are asked to conserve their supplies, although they are only three miles from an abundant supply. The Secretary of State knows the conditions of the River Forth. It passes through his constituency and mine, the Valley of the Carse of Stirling, and there is no more fertile land in the whole of Britain. Along the banks of the river are scores of farms whose only source of water supply is pumped water from the polluted River Forth. I would ask the Minister to make special reference in his reply to the problem of the pollution of our rivers. I take it that the policy envisaged in the White Paper will sweep away these absurdities. I can assure the Minister that nowhere will the Government's proposals be more welcome than in my constituency of West Perthshire and Kinross, which incidentally, supplies the great City of Glasgow from Loch Katrine, but cannot supply its own inhabitants.

There is a further point about the White Paper on which I wish to comment. I understand the scheme is to carry water to every sizeable village, but that will still leave unsolved the problem of water supply to the farm, the croft, and the smallholder off the beaten track away from the possibility of tapping the main pipeline. I imagine there must be hundreds of such cases where the private enterprise of the individual owner will be required, if water is to be made available to all. As I have said, an organised supply for the whole country is long overdue. I have a case which I will put to the Minister, the facts about which came to my notice only the other day. It gives a very good example of what the rural worker is up against to anyone who takes an interest in the land. The case is that of a ploughman who has seven children. His wife cannot leave the home, and both morning and night he has to walk a mile and a half each way to bring water back in pails. That imposes a severe physical burden at the end of a heavy day's work. I hope that the Government's plan will eliminate such cases, but with all respect it will only do so if the Government give generous and equal treatment to the private owner located in an area remote from a main pipeline. There are scores of such cases in every parish in Scotland.

I see from the Agricultural Bill that is before the House that provision is made to extend the scope of assistance from water supplies to agricultural land to the farms and cottages, and I welcome it. I think it is excellent, but I am rather perturbed at the smallness of the amount expected to be expended. In the Scottish part of that Bill the amount given is £10,000. There are 74,000 agricultural holdings in Scotland. Assuming one-third have no water, that means say 25,000, and if each one spent £50 on a water supply it would run into millions. I would like some explanation of the smallness of that amount. Perhaps that will come when the Bill is debated. I take it that the Bill that has been presented is intended to dovetail into the White Paper. I appeal to the Government to be fair to the private owner remote from the sources of supply, and to give him generous treatment, the same treatment as is given to the local authority.

On the question of the general rate referred to in the White Paper, there are two sets of circumstances- in my mind. There is the person who at considerable expense has put in a water supply to his farms and cottages. The second case is the man too remote from a main pipe line to receive a supply under the White Paper proposals. Both these people live in a rateable area. I would like to ask the Minister if he intends to levy an additional general rate upon someone who has spent money and done what the White Paper wishes, and upon the other who cannot get a supply of water under the White Paper proposals? I do not think that the levying of a general rate on either of those two would be a fair proposition.

I would conclude by saying that as far as I can see the policy 'envisaged in this White Paper is definitely a great step forward. It will be a godsend to the farm worker and especially to his wife. It will hearten the proprietor and his tenant. It is the biggest step forward socially and economically that we have made in Scotland for the last half century.