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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 Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I do not know how many there are—I will accept my hon. Friend's figures. There is a large number of these agricultural holdings without any water supply now. These 70,000—if that is the figure—or some of them, will be supplied with water under this scheme, and a very considerable number of the others will be assisted under the Agricultural Provisions Act, about which my right hon. Friend is more competent to speak in detail than I am. We think that a very considerable step forward is being made. A great national asset will no longer be allowed to run to waste.

Some questions which were raised by Members from Scotland cannot be answered until the terms of the Bill are available. But my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. Macmillan) asked whether it is possible to co-ordinate the activities of the Scottish Hydro-Electric Board and the local authorities in the use of water supplies in some areas. I answer, Yes, that has already been negotiated in one or two areas. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) asked whether there would be grants in aid to necessitous local authorities, according to their capacity to raise local rates, and again I answer, Yes. Any other course would rule one county in Scotland completely out of court. In that county a penny rate raises £66. It would obviously be a farce to leave that county to organise its water supplies almost entirely by the exercise of local rates. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth (Sir T. Hunter) asked whether there was power of compulsion on recalcitrant local authorities. If he will look at the second paragraph on page 19 of the White Paper, he will see that we very clearly envisage such compulsory powers.

The question of river pollution, to which several hon. Members have referred, raises very wide issues, which are quite outside the provision of rural water supplies. This question affects industries, it affects local authorities—indeed, I regret to say that some local authorities are the greatest sinners in river pollution. We propose to consult local authorities on these and other subjects, and, in so far as we can tighten up the purification of our water supplies through this Bill, we will do it, but I am perfectly sure that complete alteration of the Rivers (Pollution) Act will require another Measure altogether.

I have taken up my allotted time, but I want to say that I am confident, from what I know, that this Measure will be welcomed by the overwhelming proportion of our local authorities in Scotland. They will see here a square, honest attempt to deal with what has hitherto proved an intractable problem. Some hon. Gentlemen say, "Let us nationalise all water supplies, and be done with it." There are tremendous difficulties in the way of that, such as the hon. Member for the Western Isles indicated. Apart from those difficulties, we in Scotland publicly own our water supplies now, and it is purely question of whether we do better to interest local communities in local administration, preserving, so far as we can, a democratic local system, or whether we go steadily in the direction of centralisation in the capital city, under bureaucracy. I hope that we shall preserve the amalgamation of local authorities, that we shall preserve local democracy; but these local democracies must, in the last analysis, be prepared to have compulsion, to ensure that the public interest is the first and the last consideration.