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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 Lieut-Colonel Sir Arthur Heneage Lieut-Colonel Sir Arthur Heneage , Louth Borough

I had the honour to be the only Member of this House who was a member of the Milne Committee, and I, therefore, trust that hon. Members will bear with me if I make one or two observations on the subject of this Debate. Since 1937, the Milne Committee distened to, and investigated, an enormous amount of evidence from everybody who wished to give evidence on the subject of water supplies. There was no hesitation on our part in asking people to appear before us, whether they were water undertakers, representatives of catchment boards, or anybody else, however independent of mind and however opposed they were to what might be called the stereotyped view about water. The result has been a succession of Reports, of which the third is the latest, and I would like to congratulate the Minister of Health on being very much quicker on producing his White Paper on our Reports than we were in introducing our three Reports.

It is the custom in this House to leave what is good unmentioned, and to make observations about possible difficulties. I think that is a sound procedure. I am glad the Minister has carried out our recommendations fairly completely. As the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) knows, catchment boards are in a special position. They are almost local authorities but not quite; they are the only semi-local authorities which are under the Ministry of Agriculture and not the Ministry of Health, which I think is a very good thing. In passing, may I also congratulate the Minister of Health on the secretarial work which was done by his officials and secretaries throughout the work of the Milne Committee? The assessors we had also gave invaluable assistance. As regards compensation water, this is a dangerous subject. It is not for the sake of the riparian owners; it is for the sake of clearing out the streams. If you do not have a steady flow of compensation water, streams become muddied and the water cannot force its way through. That is why catchment boards are anxious for a steady flow of compensation water all the year round, if they can get it. I am anxious that the Minister should bring in new rules about compensation water. We hope very much that every river will be taken on its merits, bearing in mind that you want compensation water to clear your channels, even in dry weather. It is a question of give and take.

This question of consultation is most important. Money is being wasted on Bills because catchment boards are not consulted about the taking of water from one stream and putting it into another. In one Bill that was introduced into Parliament recently the water undertaker did not know that the catchment board was interested. The want of concentration is sometimes lamentable. Catchment boards have at their disposal an immense amount of information about underground water. I hope this information will be asked for, and I know it will be readily available. I should like to strike out a new line on the question of conservation. I am speaking now, more individually than as president of the Catchment Boards Association. I am afraid we must be in for a period of a considerable shortage of water supply. One knows so much about streams that have dried up. The Minister, it is true, is taking power to prevent boring and so on, where it is unnecessary, and to amalgamate water supplies.

There is one thing that is possibly dangerous, and that is the deforestation which is going on throughout the country. Water undertakers rightly say that the rainfall is broken by the trees, and does not flow away, but there is much more than that. Trees have been cut down right through the country and afforestation has not been proceeded with. In this country the trees are in the places where mist comes and, even if there is no rain, the wet settles and gets through the undergrowth. Possibly catchment boards will have to draw the attention of the Ministries of Health and Agriculture to the danger of deforestation. It is a new subject which has not been considered as it ought to have been. A great deal of information is available in the case of the Mississippi, as to the result of deforestation on water supply. I hope everything like that will be studied. I should like it to be investigated how far afforestation not only increases the mist, but possibly increases the rainfall. We have very little information about it and I foresee a great deal of difficulty in the future.