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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 Robert Hudson Mr Robert Hudson , Southport

The right hon. Member for Bedwellty (Sir C. Edwards) was good enough to say that he approved of the new Government practice of issuing White Papers. I think the course of the Debate has amply borne that out, because it has enabled a very large number of Members to address the House and to give us the advantage of their views. I can assure hon. Members that the views will all be gone through and taken into account when we come to draft the Bill which has been foreshadowed.

Criticism of the White Paper has mainly been by Members who expressed disappointment, like the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden), who suggested that we had been unduly timorous and ought to have been more bold. When I listened to the suggestions as to the sort of thing hon. Members would have liked us to be more bold about, I am bound to tell them that practically every one of those suggestions is incorporated in the White Paper. Only one major suggestion is not in the White Paper, and that is the proposal that there should be either a large National Water Board or a Minister of Water. The objection that we see to that proposal is that water is not, like electricity, something that you can treat by itself. You cannot really divorce water from the general administration, from such things as housing, health and drainage, which are all the intimate concern of the Ministry of Health. Nor, indeed, can you, as far as my Department is concerned, divorce drainage from agricultural policy. I hope to show in a minute that the necessity for the supply of water in rural areas cannot be divorced from agriculture, as exemplified by the necessity which we shall be under to increase the milk supply and to adopt systems of alternate husbandry. Accordingly, we came to the conclusion that it was necessary to provide the Minister of Health with full powers for central direction and control and, above all, powers to see that the authorities in the various areas carried out the responsibility which we hope Parliament will agree to their shouldering.

There has been a tendency, or perhaps I should rather say that there has been a fear, expressed among local authorities that the Government, in their reconstruction proposals, have it in mind to deprive local authorities of many functions that the authorities have hitherto performed and of which the local authorities are jealous. I do not think that that is an accusation for which there is any real basis. But in so far as we have in mind depriving local authorities of some functions or some portions of functions that they have performed in the past, let me say with some knowledge of what we intend that we propose to impose on local authorities on the other hand many additional functions and responsibilities. I think that local authorities will emerge from our reconstruction proposals with a great deal more work to do rather than less. I shall be bringing forward in the course of the summer two Bills, one with my right hon. and learned Friend, which may expose us to the accusation of depriving local authorities of some of their functions. Let me say in advance that this is an occasion on which we propose to impose on local authorities considerable additional responsibility, and at the same time to provide myself and the Minister of Health with powers to see that the local authorities carry the thing out and, of course, with the necessary finance to help them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) said that agricultural interests were partly involved, and he wondered whether agriculture was going to have adequate representation. I hope he will be relieved by reading on the outside of the White Paper for the first time that I, as well as my right hon. and learned Fiend the Minister of Health, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, are putting forward this Paper, and he may be quite sure that we are very largely concerned, and that agriculture will receive adequate representation. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mrs. Wright) said that £15,000,000 was not enough. Of course, £15,000,000 is not by any means the total that will be spent on these various schemes. Before the war the sum of £1,000,000 granted from the Exchequer produced works worth £7,000,000. Although it may well be said that the easiest works were carried out, we anticipate that with the help of £15,000,000 from the centre, together with the contributions made by county councils, and the fact that the expense is to be spread over districts instead of merely concentrated on parishes, the result will be an expenditure of a sum considerably in excess of £5,000,000. The hon. Member for Bodmin also asked about electricity, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). They can both rest assured we have it very much in mind, but clearly the question of electricity will be dealt with eventually by the Minister of Fuel and Power, when he brings his proposals forward. Therefore, I cannot touch on it to-day, but the extension of electricity in rural area; is very much in our minds. My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles)—