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 Sir Fitzroy Maclean Sir Fitzroy Maclean , Lancaster 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

My hon. Friend has provided me with some very valuable ammunition for something I am going to say a little later. He shows how very important it is for both sides, not just my side, that the evidence on both sides should be properly heard; and that, of course, has not yet been done.

My hon. Friend mentioned the cost of a full-time water engineer. I think he will find that the additional cost per annum over and above the expenditure on the full-time water engineer is no less than £26,000. It will involve an increase of about fivepence, or about 20 to 25 per cent. on the water rate, under a joint board compared with the proposals contained in the Bill.

We must bear in mind the consumers' position. Representation is very important. I do not in any way wish to try to detract from the importance of the democratic principle which my hon. Friend so rightly stressed, but we must also bear in mind the consumers' interests. My hon. Friend quoted the Minister. I should like to quote the Minister back at him—the Minister in the form of counsel appearing on his behalf. Counsel said: I would submit that, of course, the ideal of what has been called the democratic right of representation, and so on, is all very well in theory, but the person I should imagine that one should think of is the consumer. I do not know that I should express it as strongly as that. In my opinion, we have to keep a balance. Nevertheless, it is the Minister who was saying that and I quote him back at my hon. Friend.

The Minister appears again in the question of representation. The original Bill which was sent to Select Committee provided for much more generous representation than the present Bill, but that is not the fault of the promoters. The Minister objected to this by reference to the Local Government Act and the Select Committee altered it accordingly and greatly reduced the representation of Morecambe and other authorities. Our original idea was to give almost exactly the proportion of representation which my hon. Friend mentioned—seven or eight. It was no fault of the promoters that that was changed to the present proportion.

Everything which has been said so far shows clearly that there are arguments on both sides and that these need careful examination. It is important to stress that this is not a question of principle. There have been a number of similar cases and there will be others. In many of these cases one solution is found to be right and in many others the opposite solution is found to be right. That shows that each case should be decided on its merits, and I submit that that can be done only in Committee. It cannot properly be done in a Second Reading debate.

As hon. Members will see, the Report of the Committee contains an enormous amount of evidence. Indeed, there were days and days of evidence. As the Standing Order has been suspended, I suppose that it would be possible for us to go into all that this evening, but that would take a very long time and I do not think that it is the way in which we should deal with this matter.

I am particularly conscious that there is a great deal to be said on both sides, because I represent a constituency in which there are divergent views on the subject. I had to weigh these up and decide which I thought was right. Moreover, I represented Morecambe for a number of years when I first entered the House, and it puts me in an awkward position to have to go against my friends there.

There are many arguments on both sides and these must be carefully weighed. That must be done in Committee. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the opponents of the Bill did not call evidence before the Select Committee in another place. The promoters called a great deal of evidence and, as a result, the Bill was approved and sent back to us. Surely it is only equitable, in view of that result that the promoters should be given an opportunity of calling the same evidence before a Select Committee of this House and seeing what that Committee thinks of it.

Naturally, if the opponents have evidence which they want heard on the all-important question of costs, they will have ample opportunity to produce it, and in that way both points of view will be heard. That is what we want to achieve. For this reason in particular I very much hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and thus enable a decision to be taken in the light of all available evidence.