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 Maurice Macmillan Mr Maurice Macmillan , Halifax 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

It is fairly obvious to the House that my support for my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Sir F. Maclean) and my opposition to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. de Ferranti) is not entirely disinterested, any more than is the support which the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has given to the Motion.

I confess that I have not studied the Bill with the same care as I have the one which we shall shortly be discussing this evening, but I am bound to admit that the study I have made of it has not left me with a great conviction that this is the right solution to this problem. In fact, some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster were extremely telling, but in his arguments he left me convinced of what I already strongly suspected—that this Bill should be considered by a Select Committee of this House. The other points, on which he also raised my doubts, were points which will require more detailed argument and further evidence, more than a Second Reading debate can give.

There are certain great differences between these two Bills which we are discussing this evening, but there are also certain great points of similarity. One is that the figures which have been quoted show that bath of these are marginal cases, and that, as such, they deserve more careful consideration. As for the various points which my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale put forward, Halifax cannot claim either its attraction for holiday-makers nor, indeed, the rising population in which the hon. Member appeared to take a very personal pride.

It has been suggested that these takeovers set a rather unfortunate precedent for other water undertakings which are now under consideration at various stages, both by the Ministry and the authorities concerned, but surely, so far as the principle is concerned, all political parties are agreed that as between local and central Government it is necessary to re-organise the water supplies of this country into units of what might be called optimum efficiency, covering areas not dictated primarily by administrative considerations but by nature.

As to the method by which this is to be best achieved, there is a very wide variety of opinion, dependent in part on whether we are dealing with the collection and storage of water or dealing purely with the supply, or whether, in the case of supply, we are dealing with bulk supply from one or many different authorities, and, so far as takeover is concerned, whether it is proposed to take over the production and supply of water or the mere details of what may be called the retail aspect of it.

Therefore, I do not think that any one case can be said to be exactly like any other, and from such study as I have made of the Ministry's attitude to this point I would have said that the Minister was in agreement with that since some takeovers have achieved his support and some have aroused his opposition. In others, he has taken the rather more subtle attitude of being willing neither to support nor oppose, but the same principle has dictated his attitude. That is the principle of efficiency that has already been mentioned several times in the debate.

I therefore think that we need the facts and evidence upon which to base our judgment as to what extent various schemes fulfil the Minister's own criterion of increased efficiency, and that these detailed arguments should be considered by this House as well as in another place. I am sure that there is no reason why we should not reverse on Second Reading a decision reached in another place, although I am told that it is sixty-five years since that happened. That is no reason why we should not start this evening. There is every reason why we should not reverse such a decision without taking the same amount of trouble in considering details as was taken in another place. We cannot do this in a Second Reading debate, and therefore I support my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster in his plea that this House will reject the Amendment and allow the Bill to go to the Select Committee.