I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
We do not often deal with one Clause Bills. They are Ministers' dreams, and amateur draftsmen's dreams too. I have the honour to present a Bill containing one operative Clause and one Clause which is the short title and citation.
It is a very simple Bill. I hope that it will not raise hostile sentiments in any part of the House. There is at present under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944, a maximum grant towards such schemes in rural areas of £15 million. This Bill proposes to add to that another £30 million, making a total of £45 million. The scope of the Bill is rural areas in England and Wales; Scotland is not in on this distribution. The £15 million provided under the 1944 Act has now either all been spent or promised to local authorities in respect of approved schemes.
Therefore, unless some addition is made, as this Bill proposes, I shall he unable to make any further promises to local authorities for any further schemes, and that I should greatly regret because I am most anxious to promote schemes and give grant aid in suitable cases on a suitable scale. There are, in my view, few developments more socially and economically important than the improvement of water supplies and sewerage in the rural areas.
For my part, I look forward to the time when the countryman may live as well and have as good an opportunity of civilized existence as the townsman, and until he is furnished adequately with a piped water supply and a water carrying system with other sewerage arrangements he will be handicapped as compared with the townsman in his mode of living. That handicap, I hope, we shall be able increasingly to remove.
Since 1945, when the present Government came into power, work has been authorised to start or is in the final stages of planning to the extent of £58½ million. That total is composed as follows: £9 million of work has been actually com- pleted with grants under the 1944 Act. Another £24 million of work has actually been started, or has been authorised to start and is on the point of starting with grants under the same Act. A further £11 million of work is in the final stages of planning, although it has not yet been authorised to start, and grants have been promised in respect of this £11 million under the same Act. There is also £6½ million of work either actually started or authorised to start in respect of which no grant is being paid.
Over and above this, there is £8 million of work actually started or authorised to start with grants from the Ministry of Agriculture. That is for water supplies to isolated farms and stands on a slightly different footing, being grant aided not under the Act I am seeking to amend, but grant aided by my right hon. Friend under the Agriculture Acts of 1940 and 1947. None the less, it is an increase in the water supply facilities for farms in rural areas. The items which I have mentioned add up to £58½ million. In addition, local authorities in rural areas are already preparing further schemes which will cost about £40 million, and it is these schemes to begin with and, I hope, also others which, if this Bill is passed, I shall be able to aid by way of grants. Unless this Bill is passed I shall not be able to do that by way of grant because, as I have said, all the available money has been promised.
Out of the £15 million provided under the 1944 Act, £3 million has been paid over to local authorities. The remaining £12 million is promised in payment to local authorities. These schemes are paid for at the completion of each scheme, and not until the completion of the scheme, if it is a relatively small one. If a large scheme, it is divided into stages and the grant is payable at intervals as each stage is completed. That is the reason why, although this £12 million has been promised, it has not yet been spent, but it will be spent pretty rapidly from now on as schemes come to completion or as stages of the larger schemes are completed.
It may be of interest to the House if I mention that grants have been promised towards 800 schemes of rural water supplies and 550 rural sewerage schemes, so the benefits have been widely spread.
The total expenditure which has been authorised since the war in rural areas for water and sewerage schemes is one-third of the total expenditure on water and sewerage schemes in the whole country. Although the rural population is only one-fifth of the total, they have received one-third of the total expenditure. The scales have been loaded heavily, deliberately and rightly, in favour of the rural areas because it was in the rural areas that these facilities were most lacking. They had been somewhat neglected in the days gone by, and I am glad to think that this Government by such Acts as this has done more for the advancement of the standards of living and civilisation in the countryside than any previous Government in our history in a comparable period.
As I have said, schemes to the value of £6½million have not been grant aided. Each scheme is considered on its merits, and the proportion of grant varies widely having regard to two factors. First, the existing level of rates in the rural area where the scheme is being carried out, and the burden imposed upon the rates if no grants were made. In the light of these considerations each case is considered separately, and the majority of the schemes, as the House will observe from the figures I have quoted, are grant aided in greater or lesser degree.
The £30 million addition which this Bill proposes to provide will be a grant contribution to about £90 million of new work. The average grant will be about one-third of the cost of new work which this Bill will enable to be undertaken. £90 million of new work will be a very substantial addition to the existing facilities. It will transform the lives of thousands of villages, many of them very remote communities, and for the women particularly it will make life much easier and the home much more comfortable and cleaner than is possible if there is lack of pipe water supplies and a sewerage system.
The right hon. Gentleman said that this Bill will make the life of thousands of villages much better. He informed me, some time ago, that there were 3,117 parishes at present without water supplies in England and Wales. Will he say how many of these are going to be served by this Bill?
I cannot give the exact figures at this stage because all the schemes have not yet come in. I shall be happy to give the hon. and gallant Gentleman the information as soon as I can get it. Broadly speaking, many thousands of villages will be assisted under these schemes—villages, hamlets and small communities. I shall be happy to give the House the information as we proceed with the authorisation of the schemes, which, of course, to be carried through require the passage of this Bill. At present, I am having to keep certain authorities waiting until we get authority from this House for this additional financial provision.
How long will it take for these schemes to be carried out? In paragraph 2 of the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum is a statement to the effect that
At the present rate of progress it is estimated that the total expenditure towards which grant will he payable will be of the order of £90 million spread over a period of 7 years.
At this particular stage in the history of the world and of this country there are many uncertainties, and how quickly this money can be spent is dependent principally on the following factors. First, it depends on how quickly local authorities can complete their schemes. Some local authorities are very much quicker than others. I shall do all I can through my Department and through my advisers to give assistance to local authorities, who may be in difficulty as to the details of a scheme.
Secondly, there is the question of how much labour and materials will be available in the different areas. These will vary considerably according to the other claims upon the labour force. The House may be interested to know that taking the country as a whole we have a labour force of over 19,000 engaged on water and sewage works as compared with less than 10,000 in 1947. We have, therefore, in broad figures, doubled the labour force in the last three and a half years. That is a solid achievement, and I hope that the labour now working on these schemes will be able to continue to work there without undue difficulty of organisation.
With regard to materials, we must frankly confess that some materials are bound to be difficult. Spun iron pipes and asbestos cement pipes may be difficult and deliveries long. Here, again, I shall do my utmost to assist the local authorities concerned, and I will approach colleagues of mine in the Government, who are able departmentally to help us. It would be idle not to admit that the re-armament programme will impose certain extended delivery dates in some cases, but we will do our best.
Finally, the speed of the carrying out of the programme will depend on how much money will be available. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have agreed that this form of expenditure shall be stabilised from year to year. In the last calendar year, the total expenditure on water and sewerage, including the towns—for I am not now speaking solely of the rural areas—was in the order of £25 million. My right hon. Friend and I have agreed that the same amount should be available this year and next year, so that we shall stabilise for a three year period at approximately £25 million.
As a special allocation was made for Scotland in the 1945 Act, will the right hon. Gentleman consider in this Act making. a special allocation for Wales where, according to the facts, the need is greatest?
If the noble Lady and others of my Welsh friends will show me the need for special consideration in some parts of Wales, I will do my best to give those places a high priority. I should not think it convenient from the point of view of Wales to make a definite allocation at this stage. The purpose of this Measure is to do the most we can where the need is greatest. I know there are many parts of rural Wales which were terribly neglected by previous administrations, and where we have an opportunity to put that right I shall be very happy to co-operate with the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) and other Members from Wales in moving to that end.
These are the three factors that will determine the rate of our progress—the speed with which the local authorities can complete their plans; the availability of labour and materials; and the availability of finance. As I have said, we have stabilised this expenditure over three years in view of the admitted great urgency and national importance, and it will be my aim to press forward as best I can in carrying out this most vital work.
In introducing this small but very important Bill, the Minister of Local Government and Planning has given the House a broad picture of the condition of our rural water supply and sewerage schemes at the present time. I am sorry that in his opening remarks he sought to talk about the lack of provisions by previous administrations. It will be agreed on all sides of the House that we should welcome this Bill as a necessary step forward in bringing piped water to the rural areas. In view, however, of the Minister's remarks, I must put on record what has gone before. I hope that I shall not weary the House with these details, but I must draw the Government's attention to the fact that a very great deal was done by my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House when they were responsible for the Government of this country. I want only to recall one or two facts, and I will give them to the House without argument or repetition.
The House will remember that the first Act passed about water undertakings was as far back as Disraeli's time—the great Public Health Act, 1875. He was the first person to think of this problem. Then came the Local Government Act, 1929, which was a Conservative Administration's Act. The House will recollect that under that Act, for the first time, rural district councils were empowered to contribute from the general rate towards the cost of water supply schemes for individual parishes. Before that Act, each parish had to bear the cost of its own scheme. There were many individuals throughout the country who had tried in rural areas to bring water supplies to their own particular districts, but it was not until 1929 that a rural district council could meet the charge through a general rate.
Then came the Rural Water Supply Act, 1934, which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) will no doubt remember. It was the first Measure to make Treasury grants to the extent of£1million for rural water schemes on the same basis as the later Act of 1944. It is interesting that, as a result of that Act. during the succeeding five years schemes to a total of more than £7 million were carried out in about a quarter of the parishes in England and Wales, and over 500,000 rural dwellers were supplied with piped water supply.
Following that, a Conservative Parliament—although I admit it was under Coalition Government—passed the two Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Acts of 1940 and 1943 under which grants are still being given to farmers of up to 50 per cent. of the cost of providing piped supplies. These Acts were followed by the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944.
I believe I have now said enough for the House to appreciate the great part played by my right hon. and hon. Friends in days gone by which has resulted in Britain possessing the best water supply in the world. These are facts which the House ought to recollect. Nevertheless, I am the first to agree that there is more to be done, and that is why we welcome the Bill.
I must now ask the Government to clear their minds about their own attitude towards these matters during the last six years. During those years the Government have made a habit of having new thoughts about water, and I believe that these new thoughts, changing alternately with the years like the ebb and flow of the tide, have had much to do with the rather slow progress made under the 1944 Act. I want to remind the House of a few statements made by the Government about water. The first one which comes to mind is the statement in May, 1947, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) when advising his party conference at Margate not to pass a resolution for the nationalisation of water. We may now agree wholeheartedly with what he said. His words were:
You can alter the machinery of Government as much as you like: you can carry this resolution and alter that Act of Parliament, and you would not get a single drop more water.
In 1949, when the party supporting the Government produced the document,
"Labour Believes in Britain," the idea of a national water grid was introduced. The document read:
Labour proposes that water supply should now become a wholly public responsibility under public ownership. Eventually a national water grid will bring plentiful water into every rural and urban area.
Later in 1949 there must have been second thoughts about the water grid. In February, 1950, there was no mention at all of the water grid in the Government's election manifesto, no doubt as a result of advice from various experts on the problem. We were told:
Labour therefore proposes that water supply should become a wholly public responsibility so that as soon as possible plentiful water will be brought into every rural area.
A month later—in March, 1950, after the General Election—the Government announced their policy in the Gracious Speech. During that month their policy had taken a very sharp turn and had been watered down considerably. In the Gracious Speech we had this passage:
The improvement of water supplies, particularly in rural areas, will continue to occupy the attention of My Ministers and preparatory steps will be taken with a view to the introduction of legislation as soon as circumstances permit.
We have now reached the present time, and I want to ask the Government whether this Bill is the legislation for which preparatory steps have been taken for 15 months? Can we now—this is the important matter—disregard all previous statements that have been made by Members of the Government since 1947? We ought to have an answer to that, because upon the answer will depend the future action of the Minister, who, I am confident, has every intention of succeed-inn in his policy.
To turn to the administration of the 1944 Act, up to 31st May the Government had spent only £3,250,000 although grants totalling nearly £15,500,000 had been promised, representing the whole of the grant authorised by the original Act. According to my arithmetic, which the Government have better means of checking than I have, at this rate of progress it will take 30 years to spend the £15 million authorised in the original Act. That is difficult to marry with the Explanatory Memorandum to this Bill referred to by the Minister, if this sentence is true:
At the present rate of progress it is estimated that the total expenditure towards which grant will be payable will he of the order of ninety million pounds spread over a period of seven years.
I hope that the Minister who replies to this debate will inform the House what steps the Government propose to take to speed up the administrative machine to achieve the result which we should all like to see. I was glad to hear the Minister say that it had been agreed between himself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the form of expenditure is to be stabilised over the next period of years. That will mean that he will have a free hand and be able to make good progress. Even so, I am at a loss to understand how he hopes to be able to get such a quick advance compared with the pace of the last 10 years.
I now want to make a few remarks about costs. Again I think it will be agreed that the development of piped water supplies and sewerage schemes in rural areas depends largely on the necessary finance being forthcoming. The Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944, was designed specially to remedy this difficulty, but since then the progress has admittedly been slow and the cost of the necessary materials has been rising continually, which has made it extremely difficult for all concerned.
I want to give an example to the House of the kind of rise that has taken place between 1945 and today in the materials necessary to develop the water and sewerage schemes. According to my information a 6 inch cast-iron pipe which cost 10s. 1d. a yard in 1945 costs 13s. 2d. a yard today. That is a considerable increase when dealing with big schemes. Lead, an essential commodity in sewerage work and water work of any sort, has gone up from £32 10s. a ton in 1945 to £160 a ton today. Solder has gone up from £129 10s. in 1945 to £495 10s. a ton today.
I have given those examples to the House for a specific purpose. In certain cases there have been endless delays in approving schemes put forward by rural district councils because the former Minister of Health required the schemes to be so comprehensive. If the present Minister got up now and said, "Give me one definite example," I could not, because a definite example is hard to get. However, one has heard in different parts of the country of difficulties because of prolonged negotiations. What has happened as a result? Because the Minister asked for comprehensive schemes in those days and because of rising costs during the period of negotiation, some schemes have had to be entirely recast. That re-casting of the original schemes has caused further delay, during which time costs have again gone up. In many instances the local authorities or others responsible for first introducing a scheme have found themselves in an extremely difficult financial position.
Added to these difficulties of costs, my right hon. and right hon. Friends hold the view that the Government during recent years have never really given adequate and necessary priority to the purchase of essential materials. I admit that that is open to argument and is open for the Government to answer, but our opinion has been that by and large there has been delay. I admit, however, that there have been many difficulties in giving essential priorities for materials to enable these schemes to go forward on their original estimates.
With all those facts before us, however desirable it may be to encourage comprehensive schemes, I hope that the Minister of Local Government and Planning will in future rely to a far greater extent than his predecessors have done on the judgment of local people as to which schemes, or which sections of comprehensive schemes, should come first. If it is not possible to authorise a great comprehensive scheme, then it ought to be possible to authorise a section of a comprehensive scheme which can eventually be linked up. I hope the Minister will bear all this carefully in mind in the administration of the new sum of money for which, I hope, the House will vote at the end of our debate on the Bill.
I should like for a moment to refer to Wales. The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) made an interruption during the Minister's speech. I have made some research into this matter and should like to refer the Minister to a memorandum, which I expect he will have read, published by the Council for Wales and Monmouth last October. Some most disquieting figures are given of the number of inhabited houses in Wales that are still without a
piped water supply. Paragraph 143 in fact uses these words:
There can he no doubt that…the absence of adequate water supplies had been a limiting factor of great importance in the general improvement in the conditions of living in the rural areas, and in the development of Welsh agriculture.
I hope that the Minister will pay particular attention to the difficult position in Wales as a result of these inadequate water supplies. I am prepared to accept the rebuke that other Governments of the past have not done all that they should have done in Wales to provide a better supply of water; but now that we are all trying to get a good water supply for this last small percentage of our population. particular attention should be paid to Wales.
The Minister said that Scotland was not included in the Bill, but the 1944 Act applied to the whole of Great Britain and set aside, I think, an additional £6¼ million for Scotland. I understand that the whole of this sum has now been promised to Scottish local authorities, although only about £500,000 has so far been paid over. We should like to know whether these figures are correct and whether it is the Government's intention to introduce separate legislation for Scotland. We all agree that Scotland, as well as other parts of Great Britain, ought to take part in any future development of water supplies.
I said earlier that Britain has the best water supply system in the world and a greater proportion of houses supplied with piped water than any other country. The population without a piped water supply. is in the neighbourhood of 5 per cent. to 7 per cent. of the whole but, I believe it still true that even today about one-third of those who live in country districts are without a piped supply. This position must be improved.
When Minister of Health, Mr. Willink, introduced the original Act in 1944. He referred to it as a partnership between the State and the local and county ratepayers and this partnership was designed to solve this problem. We agreed then with his proposals and we agree with them now. The Government, after many contrary proposals and excursions in this field, have today brought before the House legislation in support of Mr. Willink's original Act. As they have cleared their minds of the mirage of nationalisation, my hon. and right hon. Friends will support the passage of this Bill through the House of Commons.
I was rather interested in the opening remarks of the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) when he referred to one or two sentences of my right hon. Friend in which he mentioned some of the work which had been left undone in previous years and said that that was the reason he must make some reference to what Tory Governments had done in the past. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Baronet on having a brief already prepared on the basis of expecting my right hon. Friend to make some reference to this matter. He gave us a long list of Measures and went on to refer to what had been done by the Labour Government since 1945. Of course, there is one thing he cannot do, and that is prove that at any other period in the history of our country so many water and sewerage schemes have been carried out in rural areas as during the past few years.
It has been my lot, as a county councillor and as a rural district councillor, to take part in the preparation of some of those schemes, for it is by the co-operation of the county councils with the district councils in this matter that much good work has been done. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the administrative machine dealing with this matter holding up or deferring the schemes, but I should have thought that from his knowledge of the situation he would have agreed that it is not so much the administators as the water engineers who are insufficient to cope with the job.
When the war ended in 1945, there was this great task of supplying such a large part of rural England and Wales with a piped water supply, but there was not at hand a large skilled personnel of water engineers who straight away could start on the task, let alone take up schemes which had been prepared in the years before the war. I well remember my experience on the district council when the water engineers who were engaged to prepare a scheme for Swaffham Rural District brought their outline of the scheme and at the first meeting we were able to tear it to pieces because it was not based on a knowledge of the area, as the engineers had not sufficient knowledge. It was a mere outline, and to hammer out a satisfactory scheme in a small rural district of about 8,000 population took the water engineers, the county council's advisers and the engineers of the Ministry of Health three or four years. There was not the knowledge of where the water was, or the levels or any other matter. We had to start from scratch. That was the position over the greater part of Norfolk, which was one of the counties which had perhaps the greatest need in respect of rural water supplies.
The hon. Baronet has referred to the cost, and the rising cost, of these schemes. I suppose that is an outstanding factor, but how much cheaper it would have been in those years when we had so many unemployed, when water engineers were leaving the country for other countries, seeking work, and when the people who made water pipes were also unemployed. That was the great neglect of rural England—in those years between the wars.
It is not only a question of a domestic water supply. We must have an adequate water supply for agricultural purposes. The hon. Baronet has scarcely mentioned that in any of his speeches. Yet if we are to have a pure and abundant milk supply there must be an adequate and pure water supply. Not only must we have that adequate supply for the cows themselves. The greatest difficulty which farmers are still experiencing in this country is to get men to go with their families and live in some of these places where there is no piped water supply and no electricity.
The hon. Baronet has referred not only to the cost of materials but to the rising cost of the schemes themselves. That is true of every development in rural England. If one takes, for example, the position about electricity, in the Eastern Counties four-fifths of the possible consumers of electricity are already connected to a supply and are receiving electricity; but the cost of developing electricity in order that the other one-fifth may have a supply would be as great as for the four-fifths who are already receiving it. The further one goes into the more rural areas, the greater is the capital cost to supply a given number of people.
Therefore, I am very glad indeed that the Government have decided to continue this good work. After all, if the figures which my right hon. Friend has given to us mean anything, they mean that over the whole country, rural and industrial alike, the estimated expenditure for these purposes per year will be £25 million. But he has indicated that this Bill will enable £90 million to be spent in rural areas in seven years, which indicates that half of the total expenditure will take place in rural districts.
According to the figures which have been given it is nearer a half, but if we take the figure as a third, I ask hon. Members opposite when ever in the history of this country under Conservative Governments has even a third of the capital expenditure on water and sewerage schemes taken place in the country districts. Of course it has not. If we take the past years, it would be difficult to show that 3 per cent. of the whole expenditure in any one area was for the benefit of rural districts and of people who live in them. So I am very glad indeed that the Government have made this decision and can indicate to all concerned that we must go ahead at the rate at which we are spending money for rural water and sewerage schemes.
I am glad that the Government have been able to get a more practical outlook on this problem now than that which they adopted five or six years ago. There were some people who were then advising the Government that what was required was large comprehensive schemes with one source supplying an enormous area; but, to my knowledge, in recent years they have been agreeing to small village schemes and paying the grant on them, in some cases more than one-third of the capital loss. That is taking place, and it has arisen out of the greater knowledge which has been acquired on these matters. It was a very good thing that the Government did take the plunge and engage all the water engineers that they could on this task as early as possible.
Now experience has shown us how we can get the greatest development with the least amount of capital at the present time. This is a more practical outlook. I am glad that the Government are prepared to take this view and urge on local authorities the need to develop local sources to meet the important requirements, and so to develop their network of mains that, as time goes on, they can be linked up. There is a doubt about how long many of these local sources will last. Therefore, if in the planning of these schemes they are developed in such a way that in the course of time they can be linked up, then, if we are forced back on certain areas where there is a greater reserve of water, there may not need to be a great deal of alteration in the schemes.
That is the basis on which we are proceeding in Norfolk. I am glad that the Government have agreed, after consultation between the Ministry and the county and district councils, that this kind of development should take place. We have still a very big problem to solve, because in 1945 no fewer than 377 of our villages were without a piped water supply. Many of the others were only partially supplied. That meant that the greater part of the county was without a piped water supply. The development of a water supply both to villages and to outlying farms is an expensive business, but when we come also to develop sewerage schemes for the villages, there is an even greater expense.
Unfortunately, because of the condition of many of the sewerage works in urban areas, money cannot be spent on providing sewerage schemes in the villages. Sooner or later, if we have a piped water supply in the villages, we must also have a sewerage scheme; otherwise, we shall only create another problem. I think the Government ought to look more closely into this problem. How can we, within the time at our disposal, find a solution to it, because we cannot go on for long with a piped water supply and yet have in villages houses with water closets. The Acts which all wise Conservative Governments placed on the Statute Book in the past are now a hindrance in this respect, in so far as they deal with the sanitary conveniences in domestic dwellings.
In most cases, in planning houses, the outlets of the sewerage pipes which are put in the ground by law are too deep to enable small septic tanks to work. This is a problem which we have to face, because, if we are to have a septic tank operating for one house or a small group of houses, the effluent from it, if it is to be soaked away in the neighbourhood in the soil, must not be carried at a greater depth than 18 inches, because that is the specified depth at which the pipes from the house must be laid.
I have had some experience with council houses in this matter, and I have seen where scheme after scheme of house development has provided for septic tanks, but within a year of their construction they began to cause trouble. These septic tanks have been a source of trouble, and in rural districts we are now having to provide specially equipped lorries to go round emptying these tanks very frequently in order to prevent them from becoming a nuisance. There must be something wrong about their construction. I have tried in my own case to avoid this difficulty, because, in building a house, I have instructed the builders to put in the septic tank first and then to situate the house at such a level that it was able to work efficiently. In the case of council schemes, they have gone to work the other way round, building the house first and then dealing as best they could with the problem of the disposal of the sewage effluent.
I ask my hon. Friend whether he cannot get his experts to go into this problem of the disposal of the sewage effluent from council houses, and, indeed, from; villages, where the nature of the soil would enable it to be soaked away in the soil without any damage to water supplies. I am sure that there is a field for investigation here, in which, in the course of the next two years, if we can overcome the difficulty and solve this problem, we can save millions of pounds and at the same time enable people in rural districts to have the advantages of a water-borne sewerage system. I therefore ask the Government more closely to investigate this problem in rural areas, both in relation to single houses and groups of houses and villages, because I have seen schemes produced by engineers which have cost far more than the total value of the village before the war.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend in promoting this Measure and in indicating to the people who live in rural districts that they can go ahead with confidence in their schemes for water supply and sewage disposal, and I hope that the Government will stick to the programme laid down to the House this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) dealt with a very important factor in the situation when he discussed the question of sewerage. I do not think it is always fully appreciated that for a water supply to be really efficient there must be a piped water sewerage scheme as well. That raises an important point. Unfortunately, there are some large areas in this country, most of which seem to be in my constituency, which have no water at all. Though I fully appreciate the importance of sewerage, I would impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the absolute necessity of having a water supply first. In other words, if he has to choose between the two demands when there is only a limited supply of money he should place the emphasis on the provision of the water supply first.
In listening to the paeans of praise by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, which I suppose, he had to make about what the Government have done, I think he should be reminded that it is really a Bill introduced by a Conservative Minister which is the basis of the Bill we are discussing this afternoon. I was astonished when he said that he was glad the Government had decided to go ahead with this scheme. Did he think they were not going ahead with it? What an astonishing thing for a supporter of the Government to say. It never occurred to the Opposition, even with the greatest malevolence we can produce, to suggest that.
There was a very ominous moment in the House last Thursday when the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us—and this is one of the points I particularly want the Government to answer—that so far as civil engineering and similar matters were concerned we should have to go a great deal slower than in the past. But here we are, a few days later, giving the Government £45 million with which to go ahead with this scheme. Although the
right hon. Gentleman touched on this point, I think that when winding up the debate the Parliamentary Secretary ought to give us some better guarantee that in this matter, which is so absolutely vital to country districts, he will do his best to get his full whack. In his speech on Thursday, the Chancellor said:
Investment in the health services, on some local government services, and on university buildings will have to be less."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st June, 1951; Vol. 489, c. 719.]
In the part of the world in which I live we feel that we have waited quite long enough for a piped water supply. Hon. Members of this House are always allowed to make special pleas for their constituents, because that, after all, is what we are sent here to do. I was much encouraged when the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to an interruption by the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George), said he would give personal attention to her problem. I, too, shall be coming along for personal attention, and I shall send the right hon. Gentleman's speech to my local authorities, and, no doubt, they will be coming to him and expecting the help he promised.
There are three very small points to which I wish particularly to draw his attention. In his speech he mentioned the question of agricultural water supply. From my own personal experience of managing an estate, I have found that one of the difficulties, when there is a grant half of which comes from one source and half from another, is that it often happens that one cannot make out a very good case either completely agriculturally or completely domestically, but that when the two are taken together one can make out quite a good case. I understand his Departmental difficulties but I urge the right hon. Gentleman to see whether there cannot be a clearer decision in these cases where the grant comes from two sources of supply.
I also wish to stress something he himself mentioned, and that is the long delays that occur between the preparation of a scheme, its approval and the time that work begins on it. These delays often prevent work being carried out on schemes which might have been introduced locally in country districts. I was interested in what the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, said about local schemes. I remember going to a local authority about five years ago as an individual who wanted a water supply. I was told, "You will get the water in about four years' time." I went again a short time ago and they said, "Yes, we think you will get the water in about four years' time." That is happening all over the country.
Yes, that is happening all over the country in my part of the world. I quite understand the economic difficulties we have run into under this Government. An owner-occupier or owner who might instal a small scheme himself does not do so because he knows the water supply is coming and then he is delayed more and more. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see if he can give instructions to the water undertakers that wherever possible they should give firm dates for the completion of their schemes. This makes a tremendous difference when one is trying to run one's own farm, for if one knows that one has to wait six years or more it is just as well to put in a scheme of one's own.
Another point which is a very wide one and should give us considerable matter for thought is whether we have enough water in this country. There is considerable anxiety in the minds of some of our leading water engineers and specialists on this subject whether there is enough water all the time all the year round to supply all the districts in this country. I live in a part of the world where we are a long way from the water supply, and we are having very great difficulty in getting the water from the various sources after we have arranged our schemes.
I know the Minister has an advisory committee on this particular question. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to devote a few moments of his reply to telling us whether he is entirely satisfied about the water supply in this country. I must admit that after last winter it seems a ludicrous question, but he knows as well as I do that there is a real need for an inquiry of that sort. I want to impress upon the Minister the vital necessity for water. I think he is doing his best, but I ask him to put party politics on one side and give us the water.
This is a subject on which I think we can congratulate both my right hon. Friend and his hon. Friend and their predecessors in office most sincerely. It was suggested that a great deal had been done before the war. If a great deal was done, then the state of affairs when somebody began doing something must indeed have been parlous. Whatever Disraeli thought about a hundred years ago and successive Conservative Governments contrived to think about the matter, the facts are as stated in 1939 by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot)—that among the rural parishes in England very nearly one-third had no piped water supply and the proportion in Wales was very much the same.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman included for the purposes of that answer among parishes which had a water supply not only those which actually possessed one, but those which proposed to have one and were taking steps to get one. Moreover, I am sure the House will appreciate that if a parish has a piped water supply it by no means follows that all the houses or even all the groups of houses in that parish are going to get water. I call the state of affairs disclosed by that answer a disgrace to a country and a disgrace to successive Governments which had claimed to do well for rural communities.
There can be few greater hardships than to have to rely, year in and year out, in health and in sickness, in strength or in old age, on a water supply which may come from the village pump, frequently out of order, at a distance which may amount to half a mile or more. I do not want to stress the matter. Anyone who knows the countryside must appreciate what that means to the people who live in it, and its effect in waste of time for that much troubled person, the housewife, is quite incredible. Go and talk, as I am sure we have all done, to any working woman living in a village, and it will not take long for any of us to find out what it really means to her to have water brought into the house—and plenty of water.
That was the picture before the war. Since the war the progress has been quite remarkable. Most of the figures were given by my right hon. Friend, and I would add only one point in answer to the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), who thought that at this rate of progress it would take a very long time to use the money which, we hope, is now about to be supplied. The short answer to that is that the rate of progress has accelerated remarkably. Perhaps the clearest figures I can give are these: as regards rural supplies, up to the end of March, 1948, since the end of the war, 847 schemes to a total of £3.8 million had been authorised, and in the succeeding year very nearly the same number, 834 schemes, to a total of nearly double the amount, £6.1 million, were authorised.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to finish my sentence he will, I hope, appreciate the point of the observation I am making, which is this. Those figures indicate quite clearly that the rate at which authorisation was proceeding was far greater from about March, 1948, than it had been in the previous period. There is no mystery about the figures. They are to be found in the last published report of the Ministry of Health, and it is natural enough that when those figures are given in the last published report of the Ministry they cannot be accompanied by the figures for which the hon. and learned Gentleman just asked. They illustrate quite clearly the point I make, that the rate of progress, both in authorisation and in work, has accelerated quite remarkably during the last two years.
I have a very interesting local experience of it with which I propose to trouble the House for a moment. Northamptonshire is a very dry and troublesome county from the point of view of water supply. In my constituency there are two rural districts. One of them has not the same acute difficulty in getting water out of the ground as exists in the other area; it is not naturally as dry. When I came to this place in 1945 the majority of the villages in that rural district not only had no piped water supply but had never had one and had no prospect of getting one. That was the position.
As a result of real collaboration and energy both on the part of Whitehall— if I may so describe my right hon. and hon. Friends—on the one hand and of the local authority on the other hand—much the same sort of local authority as that which existed there before, but stimulated this time from Whitehall—pipe after pipe has been laid along the roads and a great majority—I have not the exact number—of those villages have a proper piped water supply for the first time in centuries.
That is, of course, local effort in the sense that it is effort within one rural district. But the other rural district had a much harder task because they did not have the water in their own district. They had practically flung their hands in, but they were rescued, again, by an act of this Government, which seems to me to be the merest common sense, and common sense of a very promising order. A Joint County Water Board was set up to deal with the position in Northamptonshire, and the Board took over some works which were already in contemplation at a place called Pitsford to supply water on a large scale.
Do not let us push local enterprise too far. There are some things it can do and some things it cannot do, and if the supply of water in the last-mentioned rural district and any other similar area, not only in Northamptonshire but throughout the country, is to be left to rural district councils they simply cannot do it and they will not do it. Both the rural district councils and bodies of a more general character, such as the Joint County Water Board or even some extension of it, will be required if we are to provide a proper water supply all over the country.
I want to make one point to my right hon. Friend, if I may. When those two bodies exist side by side I suggest that it is necessary to be quite clear that the local authority are not relieved of all their responsibilities by the existence of a Joint County Water Board, but that on the contrary they still retain certain responsibilities under the present law and cannot pass everything off on the grounds that it is the business of the Joint County Water Board. That is a real point which needs consideration and possibly some elucidation.
It has been said by one hon. Member opposite—and I thoroughly agree—that we can by no means be certain that there is enough water in the country. The reason is that the demand for water in country cottages has been stimulated immensely by the possibility of getting it. The consumption of water has gone up in the towns and in the countryside both for domestic and for other purposes, and although, of course, one has every wish to obviate waste—and there has been a recent inquiry for that purpose—yet I cannot help feeling that if we were to examine the consumption of water we should still find that there was room for a good deal more development not only by way of piped water supply but by way of its use within the houses. Incidentally, I hope that the provisions for obliging landlords of country cottages to take water into the cottages when it is available may be simplified a little, and strengthened and enlarged, in some future Bill.
Therefore, I start from the assumption that for domestic purposes alone there is likely to be an increase in the use of water. Then there comes the question, of course, of the use of water in rural areas for industrial and agricultural purposes. I do not see how we are going to get a proper life in rural communities unless we can have much more light industry in the countryside than we have at present. I think there is general agreement about that.
If we develop rural industries, through the extension of the blacksmiths' activities, and all the rest of it, on the one side, and, on the other side, by industrialists putting small factories into the countryside, as they often do in Northamptonshire, then, if that is done, that in turn will largely increase the need of water in the countryside. So we come to the conclusion, as I say, that we shall have to have not only a national survey and a central advisory body, but probably something more for dealing wholesale with water supplies than we have at present. I feel that in one form or another that is generally recognised by those who have knowledge of this subject.
That is all I wanted to say in general, but I want to make one short and special plea, encouraged by what my right hon. Friend has said. Let me first of all say this to him. It is perfectly true that he and his predecessor have been exceedingly helpful to local authorities. Where there have been delays in dealing with any applications, in my experience—and I have had a good deal on this particular point—they have not been large, and if the Ministry's attention has been called to them they have been quickly rectified. As regards the delivery of pipes and other materials, an appeal to the Ministry has usually led to very marked acceleration of delivery. As regards cost, it is, perhaps, significant that the British Waterworks Association gives the cost of water as up by only 45 per cent. since pre-war, and that is hardly consistent with the somewhat extravagant suggestions made tonight about the increased cost of waterworks.
The point I wish to make is in connection with isolated houses and isolated groups of houses. They are very often incapable of being supplied with a piped water supply at an economic cost or anything near it. Railway cottages are a very common instance. They were built by the old railway companies a great many years ago. There was no, proper water supply then. It can be got now; but it is an expensive business. I suggest that that sort of difficulty ought to be a particular public responsibility, and that in that, as in wider respects, we ought to try to level the cost. I do not say absolutely; but I suggest that we go as far as we can towards trying to level the cost of water between the fortunate and the unfortunate. I hope that matter will receive the sympathetic consideration of the Minister and all others concerned.
I understand that the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks. (Sir T. Dugdale), and his hon. Friends do not intend to divide the House on this Bill and therefore we can all of us make constituency speeches. I do not altogether blame the hon. and gallant Baronet for going back a little into the past. The right hon. Gentleman made some play with it, and the hon. Baronet was, I think, entitled to say that Mr. Willink, who was Minister of Health in 1944, was responsible for introducing into this House the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act. I understand, however, that it was a Coalition Government at that time, and all the parties in that Government agreed to that particular Measure.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) will be glad of the hon. and gallant Baronet's support when he made special claim for the particular problems of Wales. I think that the hon. and gallant Baronet was also speaking for a great number of hon. Members who sit for rural constituencies when he tried to put his finger on what is the real cause of administrative delay. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give attention to this aspect of the matter.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who made an interesting speech, and gave us an illustration of what is happening in Northamptonshire. I do not think that we ought to be complacent. We have a long way yet to go. As the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) said, when he was giving an illustration from his constituency, this is still a very serious and urgent problem. We have already had extremely dry weather in parts of East Anglia, and there will be scores of people there carrying water this week and next week. Many of the wives of the cottagers will be walking a mile or two to carry water every day in many of the villages and hamlets, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) knows very well. Parts of Suffolk will also be dependent more or less on the drainage from the roads and the skimmings of the ponds for their water supply. This is at a time when we are not yet in a state, of drought.
I hope that with the general measure of agreement which this debate has produced, the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will understand that this is a serious and extremely urgent problem in parts of East Anglia. I was told last week of people who were having to use water from the ponds and the spectacle of housewives having to boil water and live in primitive conditions is something which should stir any Government to take extremely radical measures. People in these parts are still being subject to epidemics and, although much progress has been made, many of the people in the scattered districts where they have not yet got piped water supplies or even an efficient party water supply by the local authority are beginning to give up hope that they will ever get decent conditions in which to live.
This Bill empowers the Treasury to spend another £30 million and, as I read the Explanatory Memorandum, only £3 million of the previous amount under the 1944 Act has in fact been spent by the Treasury, which reinforces the point made by the hon. and learned Baronet that there must be some bottleneck and some delay somewhere which is preventing the schemes from proceeding at the pace which I think this House desires.
This new expenditure of £30 million is subject to a rather serious proviso, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, namely, that it is subject to the considerations of the capital investment programme. I venture to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether that means that this particular form of expenditure is to suffer if we are short of pipes, materials and various kinds of labour. Is there to be a priority system for the allocation of these materials and labour which may be in short supply, because this is in every sense an extremely urgent problem?
As the right hon. Gentleman the, Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said in one of his recent speeches, the morale of the whole population is of vital importance, and in pleading for special areas in this matter, I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary that large parts of East Anglia, where so much is a defence area at present and houses very important squadrons which are there for specific purposes, are in need of water supplies. One of the difficulties we had to contend with during the war was a lack of a piped supply system. I hope the Minister of Local Government and Planning is going to stand up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and will see that we get a fair allocation of these particular materials which are in short supply owing to the, demands of re-armament.
We have passed a number of these Bills, under which the general onus and responsibility is placed upon the local authority, but like the hon. and learned Member for Kettering I am a little disturbed about local authorities and local undertakings being given the entire powers. The party opposite stand generally in favour of public ownership of water. In their 1949 programme they made a specific declaration about it. The Women's Institutes in this country have made a useful examination of this subject, and have come out in favour of public ownership. My own party is in favour of public ownership and my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts), in the last debate we had on this subject, made our position absolutely clear. We are prepared to support any scheme of that sort, and I hope that the Government have not closed their mind to this aspect of the problem.
The marginal problem in this matter has been illustrated by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, when he spoke about the position in Northamptonshire, where one area has water and another beside it has not. Some kind of co-ordinating body is required. There may be a local authority which, because of its low rateable return or because local opinion is opposed to the scheme or because of specific difficulty. finds itself unable to avail itself of the various subsidies which have been offered by successive Governments.
What is to be done in the case of a council of that sort? Where is the power given in any of these Measures to go to that council and say, "You have to begin a scheme and we are prepared to recommend that you should have the following grants." Co-ordination is needed particularly in the marginal areas, and I sincerely hope that the Government have not closed their mind to some form of public ownership and some co-ordination upon a regional basis. The regional board would co-ordinate schemes, and initiate schemes if local authorities were reluctant to do so.
There is a tremendous back-log in this matter. I pay my tribute to the Government and their predecessors for the work which has already been done in the country. We see signs that the roads have been dug up and that a piped water supply is being provided. Notwithstanding the tremendous demands of rearmament, I hope the Minister will not forget to fight for priority for the raw materials and labour for this development. I hope that he will announce at some future date that it is the Government's intention to go ahead either with a scheme of public ownership or with a scheme which will entail supervision at a regional or national level.
ought to be one of those agreeable occasions when we can support the proposals which the Minister has brought before the House. We can do that for the very good reason that all the Minister proposes to do is to stoke up or refuel the machine which we created about 16 years ago. It was a pity that the right hon. Gentleman allowed himself some disparaging comments on his predecessors. I do not in the least object to his putting in a word for his party when he can—we all do that. My objection to what he said was that he was entirely mistaken.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred to the number of parishes without a piped supply in 1939, but he did not tell the House that between 1914 and 1939 between 5,000 and 6,000 parishes were provided with a piped supply for the first time. Furthermore, if the necessary adjustment is made in the levels of costs between the pre-war and post-war periods, the amount of new works for rural water supplies carried out by the Conservative Government under the 1934 Act, between 1934 and 1939, very much exceeds what the present Government have been able to do during the last six years.
I see the Parliamentary Secretary shaking his head, but works of this sort today cost two or three times what they cost before the war, and if we make the necessary adjustment for that, the £7½ million worth of works completed—not promised, but completed —between 1934 and 1939, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. (Sir T. Dugdale) referred, far exceeds anything which the present Government have succeeded in doing during the last six years.
I listened, as I always do, with particular interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), and with added interest because I believe that I can tell him why we cannot get enough competent water engineers. It is impossible to induce young engineers to go into water engineering whilst water is under the threat of nationalisation. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the large comprehensive schemes, about which his party has spoken so often, are not the best way of providing a rural community with water. In most rural areas the water is there. It is much easier to get it now than it used to be, because modern machinery is much more effective than the machinery which had to be used 20 years ago. In an area like Norfolk, where the population is sparse and the conditions of water supply are thus especially difficult, I agree that small localised schemes are much more likely to produce results than the larger regional schemes to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) referred.
It is true that in the past the cost of rural water supplies has been one of the principal obstacles to the extension of piped supplies into rural areas. Since the Act of 1944, however, a much more formidable obstacle has been the low priority which the Government have given to water supplies. They have consistently put the other public services, particularly electricity, ahead of water supplies.
In the capital investment programme for 1950, which is the last year for which figures are available, water and sewerage received an allocation of only £19.5 million. Electricity in the same year received £113 million, afterwards reduced to £102 million. So that electricity had about five times the priority given to water and sewerage. The £19.5 million for water and sewerage includes not only rural water supplies but the water schemes that are beinng carried out in urban areas as well. Gas in that year had more than water, £32 million. The story was the same in each of the two preceding years. In 1949 water had £19.5 million, electricity £104 million and gas £30 million. And so it was in 1948.
These allocations—I am speaking now of 1950 when water supplies received £19.5 million—were made in a year when the local authorities had submitted schemes for rural water supplies alone approaching £100 million—five times in excess of the allocation made to them in the capital investment programme. It is small wonder that the rate of progress of rural water supply since 1945 has been deplorably slow.
The Government must choose between rural water supplies and the other public services. It is no good telling people in rural areas that it is the fault of the local authorities or that nationalisation will bring the water they want, or that the wicked Tories were to blame. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear. It is no good telling people that kind of thing unless the Government are prepared to give the water supply industry the priorities necessary to enable it to do its job. The Government have consistently preferred electricity in the towns to water in the country.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the Government intend to allot a larger share of the national investment programme to water supplies in the future than they have been able to do in the past. Unless that is done, these additional funds which the right hon. Gentleman is tonight inviting the House to authorise will not be reflected in any increase in rural water supplies for a very long time.
I hope, too, that the Parliamentary Secretary will explain a statement in the Explanatory Memorandum which, frankly, I find difficult to follow. It is there stated that the expenditure on schemes of the order of £90 million it is expected will result from these additional grants will be spread over a period of seven years. During the last six years, with the present priorities which the Government have allocated, schemes amounting, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman, to about £9 million have been completed.
Does that mean that this £90 million will be spent, or will it merely be promised? If it is expected that it will actually be spent, then that will be 10 times the rate of progress of the past six years. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give the explanation. I am bound to say that unless the Government are prepared now to revise substantially their policy for the allocation of the capital investment programme, it seems inconceivable that the rate of development of rural water supplies can be expedited by something like 10 times over the next seven years.
It is not only that the Government have allocated to water a very low priority. During the last five years they have allowed far too great a proportion of the essential materials for water supplies to be exported. During these post-war years there has been in the water industry a consistent shortage of cast iron pipes and fittings essential for new works. The shortage of cast iron pipes in particular has been a restricting factor in rural supplies, where greater lengths of mains are required than are called for in urban districts.
In 1946, although water schemes were then being delayed by the difficulty of obtaining pipes and fittings, about 20 per cent. of our total production of pipes and fittings were exported. The proportion rose steadily from 1946 until 1949, when about 25 per cent. of the total production in this country of cast iron pipes and fittings were being exported. Exports, no doubt, are urgent, but it was not right at the time when these types of pipes were urgently needed to provide what the Government had promised at the election they would provide for the rural population as quickly as they could—to allow one quarter of our production of those essential things to be sent abroad.
The predecessor of the Parliamentary Secretary, dealing with this matter some time ago, told the House that the real trouble was not in these cast iron lengths of pipes, but in what are called "specials" and "ends." I am not going to describe to the House what are specials and ends, partly because I am not quite certain; but that is what the predecessor of the hon. Gentleman said. If the Parliamentary Secretary intends to say the same thing tonight, is the House to understand that the shortage of specials and ends has been so great that it has prevented us using 25 per cent. of our total production of cast iron pipes for water supplies?
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, as I expected that he would. If it does not mean that, then it is, indeed, the shortage of pipes which has held up rural supplies.
It is true that only a comparatively small proportion, even of the rural population, are without a piped supply. But persons who live in rural areas without a water supply have a serious ground for complaint. It has always been "jam tomorrow" for the people who live in these rural areas and have no water supply; but never "jam today."
I should like the hon. Gentleman to say that the Government are going to get rid of the problem of the rural parish without a piped supply. The money is there and, I believe, that if the necessary priorities were given we could get rid of this problem in quite a short time. It is true that those parishes without a piped supply now are those particularly difficult to supply they are probably those where there is some special engineering or financial obstacle.
When we have got a piped supply in these parishes we shall not have got to the end of the problems of rural water, because in rural areas the question of making connections to the main, when the main is in the roadway, is in some ways a much more difficult problem than getting the main there. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with this matter and tell us whether the Government have any proposals for assisting persons to make connections with the main when the main is brought within reasonable distance. It has been done for the farmers and, to a large extent, for other agricultural users. Have the Government any proposals for assisting householders to connect their premises to the main when it is eventually brought into their village? It is no good bringing the mains if people are unable to connect to them.
May I first thank the House for the very generous reception which it has given to the Second Reading of this Bill? We on this side of the House detect the fact that hon. Gentlemen opposite have felt very uneasy about their record in the rural areas in the past. They have taken up so much time to explain away what they did not do in the past that they have had less time to deal with the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks. (Sir T. Dugdale) made his speech in his characteristically gentle and persuasive manner, and he was accurate in his statements. He truly said that the first occasion that the Tory Party really made possible rural water supplies was in the 1934 Act, and then only partially.
The real problem has not been the wicked rural district council, because no rural district council in a really rural area has ever had the resources in rateable value behind it to enable it to provide a water supply. Therefore, they need financial assistance, and the first time that was provided was in 1934. But that Act failed inasmuch as it was not appreciated that sewerage schemes are complementary to the provision of water and that one without the other is not a great deal of good. An hon. Member appears rather to question that, but I say that a sewerage scheme is supplementary to a water scheme and one is as necessary as the other.
It is true, so far as the 1934 Act is concerned, that with the power of county council supervision and contributions provided under the 1929 Act, water supply was provided to a quarter of the parishes of this country up to 1939. What hon. Gentlemen opposite have not so far admitted is that naturally the sequence of events was that provision was first made to the parishes which it was easiest to supply. Most of them, or a very large proportion, were very much more urban in character than rural and the reason for the sequence of events was the question of the ability to carry the rate charge and the problem which the county council had to face in that respect.
Let no one gainsay the fact that, while it is true that from the Flood up to 1939 the Tories had provided for a quarter of the rural parishes of this country, it is left to this Government to provide for the remaining three-quarters, and we are doing that in a remarkably efficient and effective manner, but not so effective and efficient—
Yes, that is the point I made—rural population. And that confirms the point I made that the supply was given to the areas that were more nearly urban in character than rural—the easiest ones. I am not complaining. I had 20 years' local government experience before coming to this House, and in the Home County of Hertfordshire, in which I had the honour to serve, we did the same thing, and I was a party to it, because we were concerned about the ability of the areas to bear the cost, as the grants to them under the provisions of the 1929 Act and the 1934 Act were not really sufficient.
Three hon. Members referred to the question of a general policy about water supplies, including the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). I wish to make it quite clear that this is a simple Bill, dealing with the question of grants to rural authorities in order that there shall be provision of water and sewerage schemes. It stands on its own feet. The general question of a water policy is entirely different, and legislation on that subject will be coming forward at a later date.
Several hon. Members have referred to the speed of doing the work, and great play has been made of the point that £3 million only has been spent. I am talking about the £3 million which relates to the schemes already completed. I thought that my right hon. Friend went to great pains to say that, so far as we were concerned—and I thought that some hon. Members would perhaps criticise the Ministry for it—there has to be the completion of a scheme before grant allocations are made; or if the scheme is not completed approved sections of it must be completed. In addition to the £3 million and the £9 million work about to be completed, there was in hand £12 million of work in the course of construction on which no grant—
The £24 million actually going on. It was £9 million completed, £24 million authorised to start and £11 million in the final stages of planning, and that was work going on. In addition, before the schemes already completed could be started there had to be surveys by local authorities in conjunction with consulting engineers. Drawings had to be prepared and the schemes generally drawn up. It was not until late in 1946 before any of these schemes really got going. We are therefore not dealing with the period from 1945 until the present time.
I would again quote figures which my right hon. Friend quoted. In December, 1947, the labour force engaged in water and sewerage schemes was only 9,800 whereas at the end of March, 1951, the labour force was approximately 20,000 men. Obviously, if there is a greater labour force the progress of the work will be more rapid, and we anticipate that the work will be speeded up very considerably indeed.
We must remember that we are referring to civil engineering labour for which there is competition by all the services—gas, electricity, site work in housing, and sewerage work associated with housing. The labour force will be brought up as far as possible within the limits already mentioned by my right hon. Friend. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has agreed, in consultation with my right hon. Friend, that over the next three years, for each of the years, £25 million of the capital investment programme shall be allocated to work of water supply and sewerage.
We have given that figure before, and I think the hon. Gentleman was present. One-third of the schemes are for rural water. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, we are in fact dealing with one-fifth of the population, and on the basis of equity we are giving —rightly as my right hon. Friend said —to the scattered populations of the rural areas priority over those of the urban areas. It is a priority to which they are entitled, but which they have been denied up to the present.
Let no one forget the question of capital cost, so far as rural schemes are concerned. The average of the capital cost per house works out at about £200. I am always conservative in the statements which I make in this House, and I never want to exaggerate. As the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks, said, it is, if anything, more than £200 per house, and if one compares the capital cost per house on the rural basis with the capital cost per house on an urban basis, it is much more.
Would the hon. Gentleman define the terms which he is using? He repeatedly refers to rural areas. The 1944 Act allowed grants to be made to boroughs or urban districts which had a large rural element. Does he say that this vastly increased expenditure envisaged in this Bill is to be extended to urban districts which have a rural character?
No, Sir, because in fact we should differ as to what these areas with a rural character are. The hon. Gentleman representing the constituency which he does, one would take his intervention to mean that his constituency would be included, but it would not come within the Bill at all. This Bill is intended to assist those rural districts which are very widely scattered and in which the population is about one person to the acre. These are the persons who have been deprived of the opportunity of having a supply, because the resources available from the rateable value of the rural district were such that they could not afford the scheme and the county councils could not make a grant towards the additional cost.
The 1929 Act, which was referred to by the hon. and gallant Baronet, gave a bias or preference to such urban areas as those to which the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) has referred in its weighted population Clauses. I am afraid that some of these urban districts did not use those opportunities as wisely as they could have done for the improvement of services, but used them rather for reduction of rates. To be quite fair, it is not intended under this Bill to give facilities to urban areas, even though those urban ares are not so completely urban as some others. The intention is to develop the rural areas and to give preference to sparsely-populated areas, which otherwise would be deprived for much longer of the benefits of the scheme.
The question of delay has been raised. Since I have been at the Ministry, I have had the opportunity of looking back into the files. I have not had a great many complaints from Members of Parliament in regard to delay in these schemes. I think the hon. and gallant Baronet said quite frankly that even if he were challenged, he could not quote a case. I believe there may have been cases, and if in fact there are cases now, I hope that hon. Members, no matter in what part of the House they sit, will let me have the details, and on behalf of my right hon. Friend—since it is my business to relieve him of that detailed work—I will see that they are investigated.
In one or two cases which have been drawn to my attention and in which there has been considered to be delay, I have found that the delay has not been occasioned by the Ministry but by the county council. In connection with most of these schemes, in addition to the grant under the Rural Water Supplies Act. there is also power under the 1929 Act and subsequent Acts for the county council to make a grant to the rural district council. County councils are bodies which meet quarterly, and their committees also meet quarterly, and, sometimes, like Parliament, they refer matters back for further consideration in detail. Sometimes there is delay, although I am not going to blame county councils rather than the Ministry for that. As I say, in so far as it is within the field of my own Ministry, I hope hon. Members will let me have any instances they have in mind, and I will have them looked at as quickly as possible.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to Wales. So far as Wales is concerned, we are only too pleased to do anything and everything we can because, owing to its sparsely populated areas, the rateable value is not there to support schemes. Again, under the equalisation scheme the areas of Wales have been the greatest receivers and we will gladly see that in proportion, and perhaps in undue proportion, their difficulties are dealt with. Regarding Scotland, the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not, of course, expect me to be very forthcoming because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is the Minister responsible there. From my own experience, I would say that if there is anything going, Scotland will not be behind in seeing that it gets its fair and adequate share. I assume that very shortly a Scottish Bill, very similar to the one for England and Wales, will be introduced.
I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), for his contribution, emanating as it does from his knowledge of agriculture and his activities in local government.
We appreciate the emphasis that he placed, not only on domestic water supplies, but also on water supplies for agricultural and industrial purposes, as referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). The agricultural purpose is a very important one, for not only have we to consider the watering of animals, but also the cooling of milk and all such matters.
Either the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was not listening to what I said or I did not make myself clear. I said right at the start that the assumption that this had only been going on at the rate of half a million a year was wrong. I can give the right hon. and gallant Gentleman a guarantee that the £90 million will be spent during the next seven years provided, of course, there is no catastrophe such as war. We have built up the labour force from 7,000 to 20,000, and, in so far as labour is available, it will be improved still further.