Orders of the Day — LANCASTER CORPORATION BILL [Lords] (By Order)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.

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Photo of Mr Basil De Ferranti Mr Basil De Ferranti , Morecambe and Lonsdale 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months".

Some hon. Members may consider that the House has had a surfeit of water in the Committee upstairs for some time past. I apologise for taking up further time on the Bill, which I am opposing in no spirit of wanton obstruction but purely in order to represent the interests of my constituency, and because I want to see a solution of the problem of water supply in the area.

This is a comparatively simple proposition. There are no hydrogeological considerations such as have been involved in other Bills. The Bill involves principle as well as detail, and I will endeavour to be as brief as I can in putting the points across.

The ancient and famous city of Lancaster has a population of some 43,000 and a rateable value of £615,000. It has supplied Morecambe with water in bulk for many years, right from the days when Morecambe was the little village of Poulton. In the Bill, Lancaster proposes to take over the water undertakings of the borough of Morecambe and Heysham, and the water undertakings of the rural district councils of Lancaster and Lunesdale.

Morecambe is no longer a little village. The population of Morecambe has now risen to 37,000 and it rises every summer to no fewer than 80,000 people. The rateable value is £703,000, which is nearly £100,000 more than that of the City of Lancaster. Furthermore, the population of Lancaster is declining whereas the population of Morecambe, I am proud to be able to say, is increasing steadily. This is my first reason for opposing the Bill, which would empower the tail to wag the dog. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Sir F. Maclean) might say, "Some tail," but I would be fully justified in retorting, "Some dog". Another interesting fact is that Lancaster is a non-county borough. It is almost entirely unprecedented for a non-county borough to propose a take-over of this kind.

My next reason is that the Minister is opposed to the Bill. I would like to read out what was said in evidence before the Committee in the other place. It is: The Minister notes that the purposes of the Bill could be achieved by an order made under the Water Act, 1945. In all the circumstances he considers that the proposals of the Bill do not represent the right approach to the problems of removing the water undertaking in this area, and that the only form of administration for the new undertaking is a joint board representative of all the local authorities concerned. He went on to say that he must recommend the Bill be rejected and he said this emphatically.

Regrouping has been taking place all over the country under the 1945 Act, and it is required because, although the country has plenty of water, we have under-investment in the fixed assets for the supply of water. The Minister indicated in Circular 52/56 the general way in which he felt that regrouping ought to be carried out. He further emphasised the point in Circular 41/58, paragraph 5, in which he said that he: will not normally feel able to support proposals for a takeover unless the initiating authority's statutory area of supply is appreciably more in population or in rateable value than 50 per cent."— that is the operative figure— of the proposed enlarged area. The Lancaster Corporation has 44 per cent. of the population of the proposed enlarged area. It has 36 per cent. only of the rateable value of the proposed enlarged area. Lancaster's statutory area of supply, which is what is mentioned in the Minister's circular, has 41 per cent. of the rateable value, that is 9 per cent. less than the Minister's criterion. It has more than 55 per cent. of the population in the winter.

What is so important is that Morecambe is a most attractive place to go to for a holiday.