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 Jack Diamond Mr Jack Diamond , Gloucester 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

I certainly cannot claim to represent a Lancashire division as an excuse for intervening in this debate, although it is perfectly true that at one time I had the great honour to represent part of the City of Manchester, a city in which, contrary to the general understanding, there has been a shortage of water every other year. Be that as it may, I have listened most carefully to what has been said by the hon. Members for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. de Ferranti) and Lancaster (Sir F. Maclean), in order to carry out my duty as an ordinary back bencher, with a responsibility for listening to argument and coming to a conclusion about the papers which have been circulated.

The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale had an easy task, as he admitted, in putting forward the views of his constituents. The hon. Member for Lancaster had a much more difficult task, because in his own local authority there were differing views. He himself was a trifle ambivalent, because he had loyalties to his present constituency and to a previous one. In these circumstances, I thought he put his arguments fairly and judicially, and made a very telling case for this Bill.

It is quite unnecessary to underline any of the points made by the hon. Member for Lancaster, but 1 wish to deal with one or two entirely novel anti-constitutional suggestions made by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale. First, the hon. Gentleman suggested that it would make more difficult the task of the Minister in carrying out his statutory duty, and therefore one ought not to put that burden upon the Minister. To other hon. Members this must sound very odd. We spend a fair amount of our time, both in Question Time and in debate, trying to indicate to the Minister where we think he can improve on the excellent work that he and his Department do. I therefore cannot see why the hon. Member should ask us to deny this Bill the light of day and the hearing of evidence just because the Minister's task will thereby be made more difficult.

It is certainly not against the Minister's duty under the 1945 Act, which is to encourage an efficient water supply by the principle of take-overs as opposed to the principle of joint water boards. The Minister's duty is to provide an efficient and plentiful water supply. That being so, I think that the hon. Member was driven, on his first point, to rely on a very weak argument indeed.

The hon. Member then brought forward a point that seemed to me to raise a very unusual principle of representation. His theory of democracy is that unless one has a majority on any committee on which one sits one is not fairly represented. We could, of course, argue that at length in this Chamber—I am sure that there would be strong views expressed on both sides—but we know that in all these matters of representation there has to be give and take. The hon. Member himself told me the only thing I wanted to know when he said that there was the best possible relationship between his constituency and Lancaster. He had no complaints whatsoever that Lancaster had been or was likely, on any joint committee, to override any working together. I did not think that there was very much to the hon. Gentleman's second point.

It is efficiency, however, that will interest the House most. We are all anxious to see that the consumer shall have an efficient water supply at as reasonable a cost as possible. The general belief is that a take-over does not increase the cost, and that the formation of a joint water board does. It is also my belief.

I should have liked to examine these proposals in my professional capacity, if I may mention it, but it simply would not be possible here to ascertain which type of body would be the more or less costly, or to arrive at the overheads, and apportion them, and deal with the capital costs that have been incurred in the past. I do not think that it is possible for us to examine those things in this Chamber although, of course, they are matters which, after Second Reading, should be fully investigated.

Then the hon. Member said the most extraordinary thing. He said that because the petitioners had not thought fit to bring evidence before the Committee in another place in support of his argument that the alternative scheme is no more costly, the House of Commons and its Committees should be denied that evidence. That is really the most extraordinary proposition. Surely, if he believes his case to be as good as all this, he does not have to rely on these unsatisfactory arguments to prevent the case being examined carefully and slowly, with all the figures and necessary information available, by the appropriate Committee. I therefore very much hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading so that full examination can take place.