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 Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

It so happens that I, also, represent a Lancashire constituency, though that is not the reason for my intervening now—Liverpool recently was itself in deep water. I understand that quite a lot of political differences are likely to find expression in London and in the provincial towns and cities today. In my experience, those political differences, though themselves hard enough to resolve, are frequently easier to resolve than are some of the more intractable differences one finds between local authorities.

I think that I can fairly say that no hon. Member who has spoken in this discussion has quarrelled with the need to group water undertakings into more efficient units. Certainly, no hon. Member has queried the area to be covered by one unit in the Lancaster-Morecambe area. Indeed, the regrouping proposed in the Bill was recommended by the Minister's engineer who carried out a survey of this part of Lancashire.

The real cleavage of opinion here arises, I understand, solely over the constitution of the body that is to be responsible for water. The promoters of the Bill argue that the Lancaster Corporation should be responsible although, of course, they would admit some representation from other local authorities in the area. The opponents of the Bill would prefer that the management of the new undertaking should be in the hands of a joint board.

My right hon. Friend's primary responsibility is quite clear. It is to promote the conservation and proper use of water resources and the provision of water supplies in England and Wales and to secure the effective execution by water undertakers, under his control and direction, of a national policy relating to water. The House will see that, in the broadest sense, my right hon. Friend's responsibility is discharged when regrouping produces a new undertaking, whatever its farm, that is capable of discharging the duties now falling on the various suppliers of water in this part of Lancashire. But, of course, the form taken by the undertaking may be a matter of very great importance, as it clearly is here, and on this I should like to say a word or two which. perhaps, applies not only within the context of this Bill but of that which the House will later be discussing.

I start by saying that there is no rigid pattern for the organisation of the bodies managing these undertakings, and there is no reason why there should be. As hon. Members know, towns very often supply nearby districts, and those adjoining districts have no representation at all on the water committee of the authority running the undertaking. Normally, these arrangements work perfectly well. Again, about one-fifth of the country's water is provided by private water companies, on which the local authorities, as such, are not represented.

It might be of same help if I were to give the House two types of case we very commonly come across in regrouping. The first is where there is one good undertaking—and whether it be a local authority or a company does not really matter—which is absorbing a small area adjoining it. There, as a general rule, we find that the best method of taking in the new area is to extend the present undertaking's limits of supply, even though it means that the local authority whose area is being added will have no automatic means of expressing its interest in the management of the water supplies. There is nothing necessarily wrong in that. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) that it is not always possible to improvise perfect methods of representation in this class of case.

Then there are cases where new undertakings have been farmed by the amalgamation of a number of local authority undertakings, all of which may be more or less of the same size. Very often, there is not one large undertaker with what one might call a ready-made organisation to take over the management of the new area. There is no single authority whose undertaking is being amalgamated with the others which, of itself, is sufficiently outstanding to be the new undertaking. Very often in this sort of case the right answer appears to be the creation of a joint board.

That being said, of course, there are bound to be cases in the process of amalgamation which are either near the line or which are, at any rate, very arguable, as, indeed, is the case of Lancaster and Morecambe. My right hon. Friend's general views on these contentious cases were set out in the circular issued last year in which he said: The Minister will not normally feel able to support proposals for a take-over unless the initiating authority's statutory area of supply is appreciably more in population or rateable value than 50 per cent. of the proposed enlarged area. He went on to say that If this condition is not fulfilled, he considers that in order to provide for adequate representation of the added areas, regrouping should generally take the form of a joint board. Applying that rule to the Lancaster Corporation Bill, we find that, while Lancaster at present supplies in detail—I emphasise the words "in detail"—about 56 per cent. of the resident population of the proposed new area as a whole, though I agree that it supplies pretty well the whole of the area in bulk, the area which it supplies in detail represents only 46 per cent. of the rateable value of the whole proposed new area.

My right hon. Friend takes the view that it is right that regard should be had not only to population but also to financial resources because, of course, the finances of the new undertaking must depend ultimately on the rateable value of the area which the undertaking covers.

Applying these tests, it seems to us that a fairly clear balance of argument here lies in favour of a joint board for the new Lancaster water area and that a joint board would be a more appropriate