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 am grateful to my hon. Friend for that support. About 40,000 visitors come to Morecambe in the summer, and the population of Morecambe goes up to 80,000 in the summer months. It is obvious that the capacity to supply water must be related to the peak demand and not to the average demand. If one takes the summer figures, the population of Lancaster's statutory area of supply is only 41 per cent.—which is well below the criterion—of the total area concerned.

The reason for the Minister's opposition seems clear. The Minister cannot deny right of access to Parliament for these people to promote their own Bill, but if a Private Bill is contrary to the Minister's express wishes it makes the Minister's statutory task under the 1945 Act extremely difficult.

The next reason for opposing the Bill is financial. In evidence in the other place, the promoters claimed that a joint board, which the Minister would like to sec formed, would be more expensive than the takeover proposals. Costs go up if more staff is taken on. It certainly would be necessary for a manager and an engineer to be appointed, but it will be necessary for such an appointment to be made whatever form of regrouping we use, joint board or takeover. This brings out an interesting point. Lancaster has not a full-time water engineer. It is unprecedented for a non-county borough without a full-time water engineer to propose a take-over of this kind.

The promoters claim that a joint board would make it necessary to appoint a clerk and a treasurer. By the now well-known Parkinson's Law it would also be necessary to have secretaries, office boys, cups of tea and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. This is all unnecessary. The existing staffs at the town hall could do these jobs adequately. I could cite several places where this is done, namely, Chesterfield. Guildford, Godalming, Accrington, Southport and the Thanet Water Board, se: up under the Kent Water Act, 1955. We must all realise that the object of regrouping is to provide efficient service to the consumers. There is a nation-wide need for capital expenditure because this sort of activity requires strength both administratively and financially.

The larger area, which is the object of regrouping, will provide this strength. The objective of the larger area is to be able to employ more staff. We will employ more staff, whether we have a joint board or a takeover. Therefore, I submit that financially it is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

My next reason for opposition concerns the ownership of the fixed assets of water supplies in the area. It is clear to us that Lancaster has done an extremely fine job in supplying Morecambe with water in bulk for these many years. Tribute should be paid to it for that, but it has only been able to do that thanks to the inhabitants of Morecambe paying adequately for the water they have consumed. In view of the additional capital expenditure that will be required, the inhabitants of Morecambe and the rural districts will have to continue paying handsomely for the water they use to provide capital for extending the service. It seems, therefore, not only equitable but essential for Morecambe and the other areas to retain an effective measure of control over the body which is to effect expenditure in future.

My final reason for opposition is a question of representation. I was a little alarmed to hear the view expressed in another place that representation was a matter of no importance whatever. I am utterly opposed to that view and I am sure all hon. Members of the House must be utterly opposed to the view that representation is of no importance. It is the whole basis of our democratic institutions. If the Bill gets through with the Amendments proposed in another place. Lancaster will have a two-thirds majority on the water committee and the council will have overriding authority and responsibility, whereas, if we were to set up a joint board, Lancaster would have eight members out of twenty, which represents a much fairer form of representation.

Those are my reasons for opposing the Bill and for supporting the formation of a water board. First, Morecambe, with the rural districts, is bigger in population and rateable value than Lancaster. Secondly, the Bill is contrary to the terms of the Minister's circular. Thirdly, it will not provide cheaper water. Fourthly, people should be denied representation only in the most exceptional circumstances, which clearly are not present in this case.

One thing I should like to stress is the excellent relations which exist between Lancaster and Morecambe. They have been going on for many years and they are two of the friendliest neighbours. There are many adherents of the White Rose in Morecambe, although it is jadedly referred to as "Bradford by the Sea", and there is no question of another "War of the Roses". Credit should be given to Lancaster for the very fine way in which it has served the inhabitants of Morecambe. I do not think anyone can blame Lancaster for promoting this Bill, however expensive it is for its ratepayers. Similarly, I do not think that anyone can blame Morecambe for opposing it, because, clearly, it is not in its best interests.

The Bill has gone far enough and has cost enough. The ratepayers of the two towns should not be called upon to pay any more. Hon. Members will know of the extremely high cost of being represented by counsel before a Select Committee. I ask the House to accept the Amendment I have moved so that my constituents will be spared further expense and will be able to look forward to having representation on a joint board appropriate to the importance of the borough and to sharing control of a profitable organisation for the whole area.