– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.
I do not wish to detain the House very long, but I should like to say a few words about Clause 32, which deals with school agreements. Another stage has been reached in the history of this rather controversial type of agreement in recent weeks, in particular by the remarks of the Minister in his report on this Bill. I have no wish to oppose the Bill, but I should like to make a few points so that they may be brought to the notice of the Select Committee which will deal with the Bill in due course.
The Education Act, 1944, laid a duty on all local education authorities to provide secondary school education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child. Since 1944, there have been three Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Acts, but in none of them does there appear anything about school life agreements. In 1954, the Central Advisory Council on Education reported after two years' study of the question of early leaving from secondary schools and came to the conclusion that there were so many diverse factors operating to cause early leaving that it did not feel able to recommend the general adoption of school life agreements.
On 26th January, 1956, the Minister concurred in this view in the House and said that he had no intention of taking general powers. In his report on this Bill, the present Minister said that he has, however, no positive evidence that agreements of the kind to which the Clause relates are of much effect in helping to implement this policy. Later, he said that there can be no compulsion on any parent or guardian to enter into such an agreement, and that refusal to do so would not affect the obligation of the corporation to provide the pupil with education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude.
I feel grateful that the Minister has seen fit to go so far as that, because
it seems to me that there was a possibility, under the school agreements Clause, that a child, whose parent might, for conscientious or valid reasons of one kind or another refuse to sign such an agreement, would then be deprived of secondary education
suitable to his age, ability and aptitude
which were proved by the fact that he had passed the selection test
I therefore hope that the Committee which will deal with the Bill will give careful consideration to the remarks of the Minister, because this Clause provides an open date at which it will come into operation. If it is possible and it is decided to accept it I hope that the Committee will see whether it is possible to incorporate in the Bill some words that will clearly provide that no child can be deprived of a grammar school education because the parent feels unable to sign a school life agreement.
I beg to move,
That it he an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Parts II, III and IV.
Parts II, III and IV relate to the proposals for a take-over of the water undertakings of six local authorities around Halifax, five of which are in my constituency, and to incorporate them into the water undertaking of the Halifax Corporation.
The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan), who I have no doubt will oppose this Motion, has already given himself a trial run on the previous Bill. I thought for a moment that he was about to drag in the Halifax Corporation Bill by the shirt, but I was very happy when he changed his mind and attacked the Minister instead.
This Motion, as the House fully realises, is not one which will prevent the Bill having a Second Reading, because that has already taken place. There are many things in the Bill which are not the subject of dispute now, nor is there any dispute about the regrouping of the water undertakings. The point at issue is the form of control of the regrouped water undertakings. The House has already heard during the discussion on the Lancaster Corporation Bill about the choice of two kinds of authority which can be made when water undertakings are being regrouped. One is the joint board and the other the take-over.
As I have said, the take-over in this case means absorbing the water undertakings of six small authorities into an enlarged undertaking of the Halifax County Borough Council. A joint board would mean transferring all the water undertakings, including that of Halifax, to a new authority, namely, a joint water board. It seems to me that in deciding which it should be it is desirable to follow some fairly clear principles and to lay down some fairly definite criteria if different decisions in similar conditions are to be avoided.
The Minister recognised this when he issued circulars giving guidance to local authorities and others concerned in which he revealed his own mind in the matter. Only a few moments ago the Parliamentary Secretary read one of the material paragraphs in the Minister's circular setting out some of the criteria which he thinks should govern the decision as to whether there should he a take-over or a joint board.
In applying the test of one of them to this case, we must look at the percentage of the enlarged water undertaking which the population of those being absorbed will bear to 50 per cent. The Minister said that the initiating authority's statutory area of supply should be appreciably more in population or rateable value than 50 per cent. of the proposed enlarged area if a take-over was to be justified. In this case, the statutory area of supply is not appreciably more, either in population or in rateable value, than 50 per cent, of the proposed enlarged area.
If we take the basis least favourable to the objecting authorities, we find that comparing the existing area of detailed supply of Halifax Corporation, which includes two small parts of Brighouse Borough as well as the County Borough area, the Halifax County Borough would have 51·41 per cent. of population and 55·64 per cent. of rateable value. If we take the basis which the Minister is understood to have laid down, the Halifax County Borough would have 49·17 per cent. of the population and 54·36 per cent. of rateable value. It seems difficult to believe that anyone could regard 51½ per cent. or even 55½ per cent, as appreciably more than 50 per cent. The Minister in his statement to the Select Committee in another place expressed the view that in this ease the criteria justifying a take-over did not exist and his view was that there should be a joint board.
Since the Select Committee in another place found the Preamble to be proven, it either thought that these percentages were appreciably more than 50 per cent. or it did not care whether they were or not. If the Select Committee in another place, in its wisdom, was of opinion that 51½ per cent. or 55½ per cent. was appreciably more than 50 per cent., it seems desirable that we should find a better word than "appreciably" more to express our meaning. If, on the other hand, the Select Committee in another place simply took no notice of the Minister, this House should make it clear where it stands. The Instruction would do that. It would be an instruction to the Committee to delete those Parts of the Bill which relate to the proposed take-over of the water undertakings.
What do we in this House think about this? We have the Minister's circular laying down his view in the matter. Do we agree with him or do we not, or do we not care? Are we sure that the Minister knows his own mind? I thought from the earlier part of his speech that he did not, but towards the end he came down firmly in line with the statement made by his representative to the Select Committee in another place.
In giving evidence to the Select Committee in another place, however, the Minister's representative said that Halifax was a borderline case. That was a juicy morsel for counsel representing the Halifax Corporation and he picked it up and worried it to death. He suggested to the Minister's representative that if it was a borderline case, it might fall this side of the line or that; if it fell that side of the line, perhaps it should be a joint board and if it fell the other side of the line, it would be a take-over. Would it really matter? Is it not almost a toss-up when it is a borderline case? I am glad to say that in his evidence to the Select Committee in another place, the Minister's representative stuck to his guns and maintained the Minister's steadfast answer that it was still a case for a joint board.
In considering which it should be, borderline case or otherwise, it is clear that the merits of the matter should receive full consideration, and they did. The question of efficiency, an important principle of reaching agreed arrangements as far as possible and the question of representation are all very important when considering the merits of the matter. The Minister said that there was no inherent difference in efficiency between a joint board and a take-over.
All admit that the water undertaking of the Halifax Corporation is efficient. It seems to be one of the features of the big boys who want to take over that they plead how efficient they are and how much better they can do it than anybody else and that that seems to be a good reason for leaving the undertaking in their hands. Other people, however, can run water undertakings and those who have had experience on a smaller scale are entitled to bring their experience to bear on running the enlarged water undertaking.
In addition to efficiency, there is also the question of cost, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) had something to say a few minutes ago. Thank goodness, we are not run by chartered accountants. Of all the dehydrated professions that one can think of, that surely is it. We have to look at this matter in terms of human desires and the realisation of desires for democratic participation in the running of the nation's affairs, large and small. Although the passion of local patriotism may not burn in the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, it certainly burns in mine. I do not see any reason to be ashamed of it.
People go round the country exchanging greetings and opinions on who is winning at football or cricket. Why not extend those feelings of local patriotism to questions of whether we run our own water undertaking or have a say in the running of it if somebody else runs it? Therefore, I dismiss my hon. Friend and his petty considerations of cost in a matter which must be considered from a much broader angle.
Happily, however, in this case, the difference in cost between a take-over and a joint board is much smaller than in the case of the Lancaster Bill. I quote now from the Statement by the Minister's
representative to the Select Committee in another place:
The Minister's general view on this is that the question of cost is a very speculative one. There is room for a very great deal of dispute as to the items that should be brought into the account, the scale of staffing that would be required …
and so on.
The Minister's representative concluded:
And, as I have said, the Minister does not regard costs as the decisive argument in the light of these other overriding grounds for preferring the joint board arrangement wherever possible for local authority amalgamation.
I agree with the Minister, and I am surprised that hon. Members opposite will be getting up to disagree with him. Things have come to a pretty pass in the House when it falls to me to agree with the right hon. Gentleman. What has happened to his supporters? Anyway, I am quite prepared to support him in this matter.
The next important principle is the voluntary principle and the desirability of agreed arrangements. Now then, hon. Members opposite, who is in favour of voluntary arrangements and who in favour of compulsion from the other side of the House? Let us hear. The Minister's representative said:
On the question of choice between the two forms of organisation, the Minister does attach great importance in all this regrouping to what the Minister himself has called the voluntary principle, to agreement as far as possible among the authorities concerned. The precedents for a take-over of one authority by another in recent orders, as far as I know, are all agreed orders except for the Bilston order which has already been referred to. There have been since the regrouping circular quite a large number of orders for a take-over by a large authority, but they have all been agreed take-overs.
I do not want to stir up any bad blood between Halifax and the local authorities in my constituency, but I suggest to the Halifax Corporation that we ought to see more of the spirit of co-operation and a little less of the spirit of compulsion.
I do not want to make my criticisms too severe. [Interruption.] I do not remember having taken lunch with Halifax Corporation. Let us consider the way in which this has been done. Under the Water Act, 1945, the Minister has power to confirm orders for the regrouping of water undertakings. The Halifax Corporation, if it receives the agreement of the local authorities, could put forward a scheme to the Minister for his confirmation. But the Corporation, knowing the Minister's mind on this matter and knowing that what it proposed would not meet with his approval, decided on the course of a Private Bill. It should be stated also that the Halifax Corporation seemed to be so anxious to preserve the independent existence of its undertaking at all costs that it broke off negotiations with the local authorities in my constituency as soon as it became apparent that the status quo could not be justified. When it learned of the Minister's reactions it preferred to force the issue by means of this Bill.
Halifax is the big brother to the smaller authorities in my area, but it is a big brother whose actions reveal more strength than affection. I do not want to rake up old sores but last time a Halifax Corporation Bill came before the House for Second Reading, on 22nd February, 1949, it proposed the compulsory take-over of Hardcastle Crags, one of the beauty spots in my constituency. When the Bill came before the House, Sowerby had no Member here. Mr. John Belcher had gone and the present Member for Sowerby had not then arrived. I give notice that no Bill from Halifax will have a formal Reading as long as I am here if it affects adversely my constituents.
When the Bill went to the Select Committee of another place, it contained in Clause 31 a proposal that the smaller authorities should have ten seats out of twenty-six on the water committee of the Halifax Corporation. Apparently, this was found to be contrary to Section 85 of the Local Government Act, 1933, which requires that on committees appointed thereunder no less than two-thirds shall be members of the parent control. The Minister apparently regarded it as undesirable that there should be any departure from this principle. Therefore, in the Bill as proposed by the Halifax Corporation ten seats out of twenty-six on the water committee were to be given to the authorities whose water undertakings were to be absorbed. The Lord Chairman, however, decided—it must be admitted quite fairly—despite the objections of the Halifax Corporation, that that provision must be deleted from the Bill and it is not there now.
The Bill was amended by increasing the total membership of the water committee to thirty, of whom the Corporation is to appoint twenty and the six local authorities ten. That worsens the voice of the local authorities, whose undertakings are to be absorbed, on the water committee of the Halifax Corporation. I should have thought that that alone would have caused the Corporation to reconsider its position. When its own proposals, which it stoutly defended before the Select Committee, were modified by the Lord Chairman and worsened from the point of view of the local authorities, surely the Corporation should have reconsidered the matter and its members should have said, "If we are forbidden to continue to offer this more liberal representation on our water committee, then we must reconsider our position, because we do not wish to do you any harm." I think that if the representation proposed earlier in the Bill cannot now be granted under a take-over, there is all the more reason for a joint board.
Finally, it may be argued that, as Halifax has been the principal water undertaking in the area for 100 years, and apparently antiquity comes into it now, and having done the job well, it is presumptuous of the smaller authorities to want to join in. I do not take that view. There is no reason why Halifax should hesitate to hand over its undertaking to a joint board, on which it will have the dominant voice and upon which its officials will have control, and so get an agreed scheme which will leave no sense of grievance behind.
I notice that when it came to the final submissions to the Select Committee in another place counsel on behalf of the Halifax Corporation said:
It is cleat that the real objection of the local authorities is a matter of pride. I do not want to belittle them. It would be a pity if that sense of pride was absent. But sometimes pride has to be pocketed in order that the greater good can he achieved.
Has anyone ever heard such impudence? Who is this man to run down local pride and tell people that they must pocket their pride for the general good? It has not been shown in the evidence there, nor will it be shown in the speech we shall hear shortly, that the public will be better served by the takeover than by a joint board. That is why I ask the House to be firm about this
and not to be wishy-washy. All the evidence has been given and this debate was known to be coming on. All the evidence has been available to hon. Members to read so that they could inform their minds of the details.
May I ask a question? The hon. Gentleman says that all the evidence has been given. It has been given in another place and their Lordships have sent the Bill to us with certain recommendations. Therefore, with great respect to the hon. Gentleman, the evidence having been heard, we have now got a Bill which he is opposing after the evidence has been heard.
That is a pertinent point to which I will come in a moment. I think we ought to send this part of the Bill back to the Halifax Corporation to reconsider it and have further discussion with those concerned. There is no urgency. The taps are still running in Halifax. Moreover, they are still dripping in Halifax. If there were not so many taps dripping throughout Britain today, there would not be half the problem over water that there is. Allow me to point out that most of the water is gathered in my constituency anyway. The beauty spots and the moors of my constituency are the gathering ground for water supplies for all and sundry, such as Batley and Morley and Wakefield. When the Minister went up to open the new reservoir of the Borough of Wakefield, I was present. It was a nice, bright, windy day. The Minister cast his eyes over it and said, "This is much better than Hampstead. I wish I represented a constituency like this." The only thing that is preventing the Minister representing my constituency is that he would not get in.
I do not think the House can be indifferent to the problems which are now arising, and will continue to arise, between various local authorities because of the confusion which now seems to exist as to what are the firm criteria upon which these questions should be judged. I think that a compulsory take-over can be justified only if the public interest clearly demands that the much bigger undertaking should absorb the smaller. There should be no bullying among equals, and here, in rateable value and in population, they are as near equal as makes no matter. Regrouping by con- sent should be the order of the day unless the smaller authorities are clearly shown to be needlessly obstructive and too small to play a major part in the new controlling authority.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) has asked, and other hon. Members asked in connection with the Lancaster Corporation Bill, why should not this Bill go to a Committee of this House for examination and report? After all, it has been before a Select Committee of another place. They may have got it all wrong. Probably they were not listening or they could not do their arithmetic. Some of us think they gave the wrong answer. All right, This House has a Committee of its own which can consider the Bill and come to a contrary opinion, if it is so minded. That is a fair point of view, but we should not send more Bills to Committees on this question until this House is clearer in its own policy on the matter. I do not think that any further compulsory take-overs should pass through this House, even to a Committee, before we have laid down some firmer doctrine and removed some of the confusions existing at present in the minds of everyone as to what should govern what will be a long and continuing, not to say contentious, process of regrouping our water supplies.
I beg to second the Motion.
I had intended to do so only formally, but some remarks have passed which seem to me to call for a short comment. The first is that the Lord Chairman in another place has vastly more powers than are accorded to the Chairman of Opposed Bill Committees in this place. I, for one, think sometimes that he has taken very arbitrary decisions, and I hope this House will never reach the position where it will merely say "ditto" to what may happen in another place.
My second point arises out of what my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said about counsel for the promoters in another place in relation to small authorities. I would remind the House that two years ago the small local authority where I happen to live, and which I have the honour to represent, dared to present a petition against a Clause in the British Transport Commission Bill. The senior counsel for the promoters said it seemed to him like David fighting Goliath. I am happy to say that David won.
In rising to ask the House to reject the Motion and to allow the Bill to go complete to the Select Committee, I must express my great admiration for the fervour and wit with which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has put his points. I wish I could extend that admiration to his accuracy on matters of fact. There was the greatest distortion of the preliminaries that I have ever heard; so much so that I regret I have not got with me the details of what happened, because it never occurred to me that any attempt would be made to raise this issue. However, as far as I recollect, it was one of the other authorities which broke off negotiations, and a somewhat sudden end came when the Halifax Corporation was about to consider the matter more carefully with other authorities and it found that objection had been taken to the whole idea.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong on this point. It was not until January, 1958, that Halifax showed any signs of not wanting to go on with the negotiations, when it peremptorily and unilaterally closed them down.
That is not what I understood and, if anything, it reinforces the point that these matters can be better dealt with by counsel producing evidence and records before a Committee.
One other point on the matter of accuracy is that the hon. Gentleman said that we should recommend that the Committee should not consider Parts II, III and IV on the ground that these concern the take-over by Halifax of the water undertakings of the other corporations. As a matter of fact, if we reject Part IV we shall also reject certain considerations which apply to Halifax as well as to the joint undertaking. The hon. Gentleman should have suggested that we reject Clauses 27 and 30 of Part IV, which are the only ones directly concerned in the take-over, because Clauses 28, 29 and 31 are concerned with the general question of the Halifax water undertaking.
Many arguments have been rehearsed as to the merits of take-overs and joint boards, and I could almost wish that there was another by-election due at Sowerby Bridge so that this Bill should not be opposed. However, the hon. Gentleman moved his Amendment so charmingly that it would be hardly possible for me to entertain this wish.
The proposals contained in these three parts of the Halifax Corporation Bill are the best method of running this particular water undertaking. I do not intend to rest our whole objection to this Motion on that, but rather to argue, as has already been done, that these are matters which should go to Committee. I think that the objections of the hon. Gentleman are quite valid in some ways, but they are arguable in any case. His fears about representations are less valid in practice than they would appear to be in theory, and some of his fears are quite useless.
I do not think it is possible to discuss the merits of what even the Minister, who was not in favour of this take-over Bill, admitted to be a marginal case. As there is no point of principle involved the House should not seek to prevent the Committee exercising its proper function.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not go into great detail about the merits of the Bill. Although there is no time limit on this debate, if I did that we could go on almost indefinitely. I should like to take up one point that the hon. Gentleman made when he referred to percentages. His argument indicated that the Minister was opposed to take-overs unless the percentage was appreciably more than 50 per cent. That is not what the Minister said. He said he would not normally support it—and I stress those words. I further suggest that the Minister's words that this is a marginal case destroy the hon. Gentleman's arguments.
There is no other point of disagreement in this debate except between take-over by the Halifax water undertaking and the establishment of a joint board. This is not a case of "big brother" engulfing some smaller or weaker authorities. Far from it. It is a case of the two producers of water in the area, the authorities which own the reservoirs and have developed the capital expenditure to produce the water, Todmorden and Halifax, which now deal with what might be called the wholesale side of water supply, being in agreement. If one takes the two together they have in population 61 per cent., and in rateable value 65 per cent. These two producing and wholesale distributing authorities are seeking to increase the efficiency of their supplies by extending their services to the retail side of the provision of water which they do not now cover.
The hon. Gentleman quoted the Minister as saying that a joint board would be the only satisfactory solution and suggesting that it was the only method of getting agreement; I suggest, in return, that though he may be very willing, we are not. He may say we should not try to compel these other authorities; but I suggest to him that he is trying to compel Halifax. A voluntary agreement in which only one side volunteers is a curious arrangement indeed.
I rather agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond). It is remarkable and rather touching to find hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House seeking to protect the Minister in the exercise of his function, and saying that this Bill will make it so difficult for him to do his task. I am sure that the Minister wishes he could claim such protection from both sides of the House in other cases. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should support the Minister simply because, in another place, the support was not quite so great.
I have said that this is a marginal case. The hon. Gentleman made great point of an agreement, if I may quote another case, on Tynemouth. The Minister was not willing to give any support to the joint board in the case of Tynemouith, and with a population of 54 per cent. in the area and rateable value of 61 per cent., the take-over is going forward.
I understand that the Minister has refused to press for a joint board for Barnsley, although the population proportion is only 47 per cent. of the total and the rateable value 54 per cent. It is true that in the case of Barnsley five urban districts have agreed to the takeover, as opposed to three districts which do not agree. That gives what might be called an agreement factor expressed in terms of rateable value of 75 per cent. in the case of Barnsley and 65 per cent. in the case of Halifax. I suggest that that difference of 10 per cent. is just that sort of marginal difference which is more properly considered by a Committee.
I am not quite sure whether the Halifax Corporation is being praised or blamed for seeking to give the other authorities greater representation on the committee than it would be permitted to do under the 1933 Act. I think that the Halifax offer was an earnest of the corporation's intention to consider the interests of all authorities and ratepayers and not to engulf them and squash them down by an overriding majority. I am bound to admit that there has been no complaint about the bulk supply of water from the other authorities taking water.
A further point was that as a committee of the Halifax Council this committee would be subordinate to the council. A joint board has members appointed by the council and, therefore, in some sense is subordinate to whichever council appoints the majority of that joint board. The hon. Member said that the representation of the other authorities on the committee would be inadequate, but Halifax is bound to have a majority representation on the joint board, unless the hon. Member is proposing a thoroughly undemocratic solution.
Therefore, the control of either organisation, if that is what he is worried about, if either case would be in the hands of Halifax councillors. There is only the slight difference that under the joint board arrangement the members would not be elected by the ratepayers or consumers of water, but would be nominated by the members of a council. At least, it can be argued that it is more democratic to have a waiter undertaking controlled by a committee directly elected by the people it is seeking to serve rather than at one remove.
I agree that the need for considering this question in greater detail in the somewhat calmer atmosphere of a Select Committee would make it harder for the hon. Member to regard the supply of water as a sort of game with the same sort of local patriotism which cheers on a football team by waving a rattle, which is not appropriate to the more serious matter of supplying water to meet the needs of consumers. I am surprised that someone whom I have always regarded as a serious Member should have taken this rather frivolous attitude.
Despite the contentions from the benches below, I have not yet mentioned the word "drip".
One advantage of the Bill which I do not want to over-stress is that of continuity. The hon. Member taunted us for believing that a supply going on for one hundred years was efficient. Certainly, it can be argued that an authority which has been supplying water for one hundred years must, by definition, have provided a great deal of the money and capital involved. There is no doubt as to the technical efficiency of both the bulk and detailed supply by the Halifax Corporation.
Although those are separate for the purposes of our argument this evening, the water is not separate and the flow is continuous. Even a joint board would have to rely to a great extent on the experience and knowledge gained by Halifax, and, that being so, that experience and knowledge can be more efficiently given under the continuity of keeping the machine already in existence.
One of the normal tests which the Minister must apply in making up his mind on these matters, as he has said, relates to the question of the capital development of the resources involved. It is true to say that of the capital investment already made in these water undertakings 89 per cent. comes from Halifax and Todmorden and the rest from other places. I appreciate the point. Already, the Halifax Corporation is bearing 78 per cent. of the annual operating cost of the whole undertaking and I suggest, therefore, that on its merits there is much to be said for allowing it to make that small extension.
I will not go into details about the question of operative costs. I have here a lot of tables, and if it is argued that the evidence given before the Committee in another place was not correct or that wrong conclusions were drawn from it, again I suggest that it would be better to make these arguments before a Select Committee of this House. I found the somewhat casual attitude of the hon. Gentleman towards the cost of these undertakings a little surprising. Perhaps if it were not the Halifax ratepayers who are chiefly involved he might have been a little more careful in what he said.
There has been a great deal said about comparisons between these various undertakings and I admit that this House should establish a criterion as between a take-over and a joint board. I have anticipated the hon. Gentleman's argument in this respect and have worked out some sort of principle. But while one may argue that there are occasions when a take-over would definitely be appropriate and other cases in which a joint board would definitely be the best solution, there are many other instances where the considerations are such that it would be impossible to come to a definite conclusion as a matter of principle. Therefore, I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong in suggesting that it is the duty of this House to make up its mind in such a way before sending the Bill to a Select Committee.
For example, there are the cases of Nottingham, Bolton, Brighton, Warrington, St. Helens and Wolverhampton, which are among those I could quote where the take-over authority has between 82 per cent. and 96 per cent. of the population of the whole area and between 85 per cent. and 94 per cent. of the rateable value. These are obvious candidates for the take-overs which have happened, or are happening. At the other end of the scale, there are Wakefield, Doncaster and Lincoln, where the boroughs have only 31 per cent. to 46 per cent. of the population and between 41 per cent. and 59 per cent. of the total rateable value.
Taking as a marginal figure the rateable value proportion of, say, between 50 per cent. and 65 per cent., we find it slightly harder to come to a conclusion. Swindon, for example, with a population and rateable value of 62 per cent. of the whole area supplies only about 50 per cent. of the water and in that case perhaps it is better that there should be a joint board. I do not know and neither do they, because negotiations have come to an end and I understand that the Minister is making inquiries. Doncaster has a population of 49 per cent. and a rateable value of 59 per cent. and they are supplying only about 50 per cent. of the water.
It is more certain that with Tynemouth, with a population of 54 per cent. and rateable value of 61 per cent., there should be a take-over, and a take-over has been agreed, although they supply only 75 per cent, of the water. Barnsley, for which I have quoted the other figures, supplies 100 per cent. of the water and has 86 per cent. of the capital investment. Halifax with 52 per cent. of the population—with Todmorden it has 61 per cent.—has a 56 per cent. of the rateable value, and with Todmorden supplies 100 per cent. of the water.
The hon. Gentleman has made a number of comparisons with Todmorden and has said that Todmorden agrees. This I believe to be wrong. The fact that Todmorden is not spending money opposing the Bill is not, I am sure, to be taken as an indication that it approves.
May I read out a letter, a copy of which I have here, written by the town clerk of Todmorden to the town clerk of Halifax. It states:
I now write to formally confirm that at their last meeting the council resolved: 'That Todmorden accept the terms offered by Halifax Corporation and agree to a merger of the Todmorden Undertaking with that of Halifax.'
I think that that it is a quite definite indication that Todmorden agrees. That letter was dated last December. Again, I am not going into this in greater detail except to make one other comparison. The percentage is 35 per cent. in the case of Halifax and 25 per cent. in the case of Barnsley—again a very marginal difference.
I have tried to show that both the parts of the Bill which it is suggested the Committee should be instructed to leave out and the objection so far made contain no points of principle. I have tried to show that the Halifax proposals are sound and. at the very worst, sound enough to be discussed in greater detail with greater evidence than we can obtain now. Since a point of principle is not involved, no one can deploy the full arguments, although I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has many more which he would like to deploy.
I am happy to know that the Minister agrees that so far as Lancaster is con- cerned, and I hope that his agreement will extend to Halifax. I do not think that it is right to ask the House to prevent one particular Bill from reaching the Committee simply to establish, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, a rather doubtful point of principle, that it was up to this House or to the few hon. Members now here, to make up their minds about water policy in general so that the Committee might have proper directions to consider the Bill. When this course was adopted for the Leeds Corporation Bill all the points which the Committee was instructed to remove were small points in which the principle came in and were a very small proportion of the total Bill and not a large part of it, as in this case.
This was argued in great detail before the Committee in another place. It took four days and a great deal of expert evidence. We are now being asked, in effect, to reverse that decision without being able to consider that evidence. I would remind the House that even if this goes complete to a Committee and the Committee agrees with the decision in another place, there is still the Report and Third Reading, on which these objections can be made after the evidence and not before the evidence.
In seeking to prevent those parts of the Bill being considered by the Committee I am sure that those supporting the Motion are asking a little too much of the House and I suggest that before the House reverses the decision arrived at in another place—and I should be the last to say that it has no right or duty to do so—it should at least consider the evidence and listen to the arguments put forward there. Tonight we should decide to allow the Committee to consider these three parts of the Bill together with the rest, and I therefore ask the House to reject the Motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who has grown in the estimation and friendship which we all have for him, said at least one thing which I think is shared by the whole House. He said that it is a good thing—in fact, I think he said "Thank heavens"—that chartered accountants do not govern us. That is a sentiment to which I heartily subscribe. I would only add that so far as I am aware chartered accountants do not seek to govern us. What they seek to do is to extract and collect accurate information and put it before any committee which wishes to consider it and be guided in coming to a proper conclusion.
The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) brought much warmth to this discussion. No one could be left in any doubt as to his loyalty to his constituency or to the Minister, which are entirely proper feelings but which do not help us very considerably in deciding on the merits of the argument being discussed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby referred to those who favour voluntary agreement and those who favour compulsory agreement, but it is difficult to think of an agreement which is not voluntary. We always want agreement to be reached in a co-operative way. Where there are differences of opinion, what does my hon. Friend and every other Member of the Labour Party or of a trade union do? Such people accept the view of the majority. Where the opinion of the majority is against theirs, they have always accepted the majority view, knowing that it is open to all of us, on rare occasions, to be wrong.
The effective majority in this case, in terms of any criterion which could be applied, rests with Halifax. Therefore, I say that if agreement cannot be reached individually it is right that Halifax should exercise its proper powers, after approval, to take over other local authorities in order to extend its area and to continue its long history as an efficient water supplier.
In reply to my hon. Friend who asks, "Who is for voluntary agreement and who is for compulsory agreement?" I would ask, "Who is for democracy?" I would ask him to examine what has just happened. This House has just given an unopposed Second Reading to this Bill. We are now discussing a Motion which seeks to leave out of the Bill Parts II, III and IV.
For the benefit of any hon. Member who has not read the Bill from beginning to end—I do not suppose there is any such Member—I would point out that the remainder of the Bill does not regulate water at all. My hon. Friend does not seek to leave out Part I, which is the interpretation Clause, or those parts of the Bill which follow Parts II, III and IV, and which deal with such important matters as the sale of briquettes—a matter in which the President of the Board of Trade is extremely interested—
—library books and restrictions on the use of the borough's armorial bearings. These are important matters; but we are discussing the water undertaking.
In face of a unanimous Second Reading by the House, my hon. Friend is proposing to extract the whole body of this Bill from the view of the Committee and to make it impossible for the Committee to look at the Bill as a whole. What would come before the Committee would have virtually nothing to do with what we have been discussing on Second Reading. That is a proposition which does not meet with much support in the House. I believe that there has recently been a Standing Committee dealing with night baking, where this question of amending a Bill so as to alter what had been approved of on Second Reading was considered. It is within the knowledge of the House what happened to that Bill.
I had to read up a considerable amount of history and I became interested in a debate between Mr. Asquith and Mr. Bonar Law as to the appropriateness of this proceeding on a Bill dealing with women's suffrage. The principle goes far back into history and precedent. That is why we could not possibly, having given an unopposed Second Reading to the Bill, approve sending it to the Committee for its next stage to discuss the essential parts of the Bill, having removed every important Clause from it before it got to the Committee.
We recently considered another Bill. I would say to the hon. Member for Lancaster (Sir F. MacLean) that the Bill which we are now considering has an even stronger case. All criteria that the Minister proposed—not the laws of the Medes and Persians—are satisfied much more fully in the case of this Bill than m the case of the previous Bill. On the previous Bill, certain evidence was not heard by the Committee in another place, but in the case of this Bill all the evidence was heard fully and at length by the Committee in another place. The Committee, having heard all the evidence, rejected the view of the petitioner. In those circumstances it is improper, constitutionally and in a democracy, that the Committee which should examine the Bill now should not have the opportunity of examining the whole Bill.
I am glad to know that my hon. Friend is such a loyal supporter of the Minister. I hope that he will support the Minister loyally when the Parliamentary Secretary, having agreed to what he said previously on a Bill which did not satisfy his own Minister's criteria to anything like the same extent, says that on this occasion the Motion must be rejected.
I do not intend to keep the House for very long, but, having been a member of the Select Committee for over nine months and having attended thirty-three sessions on four water Bills, I think it fair to the House to give my opinion on some of the remarks which have been made tonight.
In the case of Bills coming before this House in the first instance, the Committee meets upstairs, considers the petitions, the Bill and the Preamble, hears evidence brought before it and subsequently gives a decision. Then the Bill comes before this House and normally goes through on the nod. It goes to another place which examines the Bill there.
The reverse has been the case here. The Bill has gone to the other place first where all the evidence of the witnesses was heard. The witnesses were examined and cross-examined and their Lordships came to the conclusion that the Halifax Corporation Bill should come here. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) on the excellent attempt he made to put a good case for his constituents, but the fact is that in the mind of the Minister, and in the minds of successive Ministers, water has been a very big problem for this country. Amalgamations have to take place. When we think of the enormous problem of the water undertakings we on the Committee dealing with those four water Bills had to consider, I can only say that this is a very trifling matter.
In a matter which is important to the small local authorities represented by the hon. Member for Sowerby it is vital that these questions should be considered and witnesses called and the whole matter tested. It would be wrong for this House tonight by this Motion to turn down the opportunity of hon. Members of this House in Committee to test the arguments for and against. I should not have intervened but for the fact—I say this with great respect and in a humble way—that. having spent many hours on many Bills of this character in the last eight years, the evidence having been heard elsewhere and the decision having been come to, it would be wrong for us to turn down the Bill on a Motion of this kind on a question of such importance to the constituents of the hon. Member.
Therefore, I strongly support the rejection of the Motion on the ground that a Committee of this House should rehear all the evidence and come to its own conclusion and then report to us. If the hon. Member for Sowerby feels that that report is wrong he can raise it, as he will have a second opportunity; out, if this House did not allow a matter of this importance to the hon. Member's constituents and to those of Halifax to be considered by a Committee of this House, this House would not be doing its duty to the people of this country.
The doctrine that because another place has passed the Bill, then we in this House should surrender our rights, discard our responsibilities and give the Bill an automatic Second Reading is a doctrine which I find highly repugnant. If any hon. Member thinks that something wrong has been done m another place, or if he thinks that the interests of his constituents are seriously prejudiced, he has not only the right but also the duty to use the procedure of the House.
Having said that, let me say at once to the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) that if the matter were as he described it, I should not seriously quarrel with him. Generally speaking, the issues which arise on Private Bills are better handled in Committee, where evidence is produced. I have a constituency interest in the matter in that the Borough of Brighouse, which, I am proud to say, is part of my constituency —and which probably has one of the best brass bands in Yorkshire, something which Halifax does not possess—and therefore have a duty to represent the views of the borough.
I am, however, the more willing to advance this case because I am satisfied that serious matters of principle arise. I do not need to tell the House that I have been interested in water supply problems ever since I arrived here, and, indeed, ever since I entered public life. There have been occasions when I have been in the position of the Parliamentary Secretary, advising the House in these matters.
Why, then, am I primarily against what has been done in another place? It is because if Bills like this continue to be brought forward it will make complete nonsense of our present water policy, it will make orderly progress in regrouping undertakings impossible and it will break faith with those very many water undertakers who have loyally worked on the lines of the Minister's circular on policy.
If I were in the Minister's place I should be very upset, because I should see that I was being put in the position in which the views which I had expressed to many people throughout the country on a policy which had been loyally adopted by many water undertakers would be completely undermined by this kind of take-over procedure. If, therefore, I ask that the matter should be held up and that Halifax should think again, it is because I believe not merely that the will of the Minister is being thwarted but that the will of the House is also being thwarted.
On 22nd May, 1957, we had an extremely interesting debate in the House on water supply. The Parliamentary Secretary replied for the Government and I was then privileged to make a speech on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The first thing which was perfectly plain was that the Government wanted voluntary processes wherever possible. I quote from the hon. Member's speech as reported in c. 1287 of the OFFICIAL REPORT:
My right hon. Friend has made it plain that he prefers to see this process of regrouping carried through on a voluntary basis by the undertakers themselves, and that, although he has compulsory powers under the 1945
Act, it is his hope that he will need to invoke those powers only when regrouping is desirable and cannot be achieved by any other method.
He went on to say:
That, I think, would accord with the general sentiment and feeling of the House.
We agreed with him at the time, and nobody raised a voice against it.
The second thing was that we talked a good deal about the way in which this should be done, and again I quote from the hon. Gentleman in respect of the setting up of joint boards. The Parliamentary Secretary then said:
I recognise, as, indeed, did my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, that many of the small local authorities are reluctant to lose any of their existing functions, and some of them are, quite naturally perhaps, a little suspicious of the regrouping policy. I should like to emphasise that we have no intention of silencing the voices of these smaller local authorities, because my right hon. Friend is looking mainly to the setting up of joint boards of local authorities, so that the connection of these small local authorities with a joint board may be maintained."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1957; Vol. 570, c. 1286.]
We all agreed, and when the Minister sat down, he expressed his pleasure in the fact that the House had endorsed the general water policy of the Government.
I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman realises this point, but may I put it to him? He has read out a report of what the Minister's view is. Does he realise that if these Clauses are not taken out of the Bill, the Minister will, in fact, send a report to the Committee upstairs on these very Clauses. Therefore, the Committee considering the Clauses will be in a position to have the up-to-date opinion of the Minister when considering the matter. On the other hand, if these Clauses do not go to the Committee, because the House decides not to let them go, the Minister will not be in a position to give his latest view of the matter.
I entirely agree that the situation is as the hon. Gentleman has described it. My reason for wanting the matter debated tonight is because, in view of that earlier debate, it is not only a matter for the Minister but a matter for the House. It is a matter for all of us who took part in that debate. It is a matter for all of us who said, as I did, that the law needed to be changed, and that if the Labour Party came into power, we should want to do something much more radical, but that, within the existing law, this was the way to proceed. No one on that occasion on either side of the House disagreed. In fact, we said to the Minister "Go to it, and do it as quickly as you can" It is that programme which, to my mind, is being thwarted by these take-over methods which I want to stop.
Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to say how he reconciles that with what he has just read out? He read out the view of the Minister that his policy was that mainly the approach would be by way of joint boards rather than take-over. Is my right hon. Friend really saying that in no circumstances whatever should a Committee of this House have the opportunity of considering the arguments in favour of a take-over?
No, of course, not; I was saying nothing of the kind. I would not be so foolish. What I am saying is that if there is a policy which has been endorsed by the whole House, I do not want to see it undermined.
May I show how I think this is inconsistent with what we all wanted when we last debated the point? First of all, on the matter of voluntary arrangements, following the circular sent out in September. 1956, all the local authorities concerned got together and unanimously decided that they would like to maintain the status quo. This included Halifax. There was in existence a joint committee of takers of bulk supplies, which as far as I know, had worked very well, and, incidentally, had the result that something like 50 per cent, of the capital required by the undertaking was being provided from outside Halifax. Halifax subsequently laid down certain not unreasonable conditions. They said that full reasons must be given and full information must be obtained from the authorities, and positive proposals must be submitted for remedying any defect.
Work proceeded on these lines. It was not until January, 1958, when a good deal of this inquiry was still in hand, that Halifax changed its mind, as I am advised, unilaterally—without any discussion—and there have not been any discussions between Halifax and these authorities since. The other authorities have been talking to one another, and it was they who, in the end, after very full meetings, decided to seek an Order under the 1945 Act to create a joint water board.
My great complaint, therefore, is that no attempt has been made by the Borough of Halifax to come to terms with all the other parties, and that one of the things on which we were certainly agreed in our debate in the House has been prevented, not because of a failure to reach agreement but because there has not been any attempt to reach agreement.
There are certain narrower grounds on which the joint board is to be preferred to the take-over. First of all, if there is a take-over, the control of the undertaking will be the sole responsibility of the Borough of Halifax, and the ratepayers of Halifax can regard their interests as paramount at the expense of the general body of water consumers over the whole area.
Moreover, I am somewhat worried about the disposal of any surpluses that may arise in the accounts. As far as I can see, if there is a joint board there is no risk. Otherwise, I understand that the Borough of Halifax has power to take water surpluses for the relief of rates. They certainly can do so in respect of distribution surpluses. Whether they can do so in respect of bulk supply surpluses—of which there is a fair sum. I think—I do not know, but my constituency is certainly interested in this.
It is a serious point and, frankly, we have not much confidence that the Borough of Halifax will behave in such a way as to give equitable treatment throughout the area. For years, the Borough of Brighouse was fighting the Borough of Halifax about a surcharge on the inhabitants of Southowram. The same water mains were being used for adjacent streets, but the Borough of Halifax was surcharging the people who happened to be in the Borough of Brighouse. Those people were paying a higher rate than were the others, although the conditions of supply were exactly the same. It was not until Brighouse went to the Minister, who issued an Order in 1953, that the Borough of Halifax was made to behave in a reasonable manner.
For all these reasons I very much hope that a new attempt can be made in the area to reach some common agreement. That would be much better for the local authorities concerned. They have to live with one another in the years ahead and if, in this work, the Borough of Halifax gets its will it is bound to leave a legacy of bad blood that will not be in anybody's interest. That is why I support the idea that these particular parts of the Bill should be withdrawn, and I do so in the very great hope that it will give the local authorities concerned a chance to think again.
I should like to intervene very shortly. I have already addressed the House on the Lancaster Bill, and I do not propose to weary hon. Members with a repetition of what I then said. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who made a very good, rumbustious Conservative speech, thought that the earlier part of what I said on the Lancaster Bill betrayed the fact that my right hon. Friend did not quite know his own mind. I have never known a Minister of the Crown to whom that criticism was less applicable. The usual criticism is that my right hon. Friend knows his mind only too well.
There is one consideration which has just been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) to which I ought to refer at once. He said—I understand his point of view, of course, without giving it my full sympathy—that if he were in the position of the Minister he would be unhappy, notwithstanding the processes for which the Government are responsible in amalgamation, at the prospect of certain local authorities coming before Parliament with Private Bills which included proposals for water take-overs. That is a point of view which is perfectly understandable, but I very much doubt whether Parliament would agree to take steps, in any circumstances, to frustrate local authorities from having access to this House either in matters of this kind or in others.
If I may say so, I think that there is the severely practical point to be borne in mind here that a local authority which wishes to embark on a take-over will not promote a Bill in Parliament unless the authority itself feels that it has a reasonably good case. Of course, it may have an exaggerated idea of the merits of its case. If that proves to be so, the probability is that the Bill will be reported against by my right hon. Friend in Committee. As a general rule, however, I think it is fair to say that the cases will be either marginal or near-marginal, and I see no essential reason why they should not be considered by the normal processes of the House. I say that while perfectly well understanding what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan), as one would expect from him, supported the Bill in a cogently argued speech. He wishes the Halifax Corporation to take over the whole of the new water area and to manage it through the water committee of the Halifax Corporation on which the existing water undertakings in the area would be given representation. In this, as my hon. Friend rightly said, the Halifax Corporation has the support of the Todmorden Borough Council. But, of course, it is opposed, as was made clear by the hon. Member for Sowerby and his right hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough by all the other undertakings in the area, all of which are local authorities.
Perhaps I should make clear that, with the exception of Todmorden, each of these authorities receives its water in bulk from Halifax and depends almost entirely upon it. Todmorden has its own sources of water and also a bulk supply from Rochdale.
The hon. Member for Sowerby put the case against the take-over and in favour of a joint board on a number of grounds. First of all, he said that it would be unfair to give the authorities outside Halifax only one-third representation on the Halifax water committee. He told the House of what occurred in the report of my right hon. Friend in a Committee in another place. It is perfectly true that to give representation, by co-option of outside local authorities, to the tune of more than one-third is contrary to one of the Sections of the Local Government Act, 1933.
The view of my right hon. Friend is that it would be wholly undesirable to breach the principle contained in the 1933 Act. It would run contrary to the spirit of democracy, and, of course, to the extent that it is true that the representation allowed for in the Bill as it stands is only one-third, that is, I agree, as was implied by the hon. Gentleman, an argument in favour of a joint hoard on the ground that one cannot otherwise secure adequate representation of the other local authorities.
There is the important consideration which has been mentioned by some of the local authorities opposing the Halifax Bill that the water committee, however composed, would be subordinate to the Halifax Town Council on which the other local authorities would have no representation. The town council could agree or disagree with the decisions of its water committee. After all, the committee would remain a committee of the Halifax Council and the Halifax Council in turn would retain control over the committee's powers, for example, to raise money or to levy water rates.
I mention those considerations because they are important from the point of view of the other local authorities, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax recognises. I agree that there is some force in these arguments. but, having said that, I still think that it is true to say that if the conclusion, in spite of those considerations, should be that there is an overwhelming case for a takeover then those objections, important though they are, should not be treated by the House as decisive.
On the other hand, my hon. Friend said that the Halifax undertaking is an efficient one, which is true, and that a joint board would be probably more expensive and perhaps no more efficient than administration by Halifax alone. The Halifax undertaking is a good one and it may well be true that a joint board would be rather more costly. I do not propose to get inveigled into an argument about that matter: it would be like an argument between direct labour and competitive tendering. Whatever the truth of that, it may be a quite small price to pay for maintaining good relations between neighbouring local authorities in the Halifax area. It is an important argument, but not a decisive argument against a joint board.
My right hon. Friend has examined this case in the light of the rule embodied in his circular of last July. I am informed that at present Halifax supplies 52 per cent.—the hon. Member for Sowerby said 51·4 per cent., and we will not quarrel about that—of the proposed new water area by population and 56 per cent.—the hon. Gentleman's figure was slightly below that—by rateable value. As has been said, Todmorden supports the Halifax Bill, and if the figures for Todmorden are added to those of Halifax the percentage rises to about 61 and 65 per cent.
I want to be perfectly fair about this. Todmorden is not the initiating authority, and strictly within the context of the circular one is not entitled to look at it in that way. Therefore, I do not make very much of it. On the other hand, where there is agreement between two local authorities it has to be given consideration of some sort, no matter what the circular may say.
Looking at these figures, my right hon. Friend felt that the case was very nicely balanced as between a takeover and a joint board. On a very careful weighing of these niceties, his judgment was to express himself in support of a joint board. He said as much in his report to Parliament on the Halifax Bill, but at the same time he explained that he regarded this case as a very borderline one. I freely concede, and here I am fulfilling the expectation of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond), that arguments can very readily be used one way or the other. I am sure that both my hon. Friend and right hon. and hon. Members opposite who have contributed to the discussion would not disagree with me.
Is not the hon. Gentleman playing down what was said in the Minister's report? Let me quote from the report. After all the arguments are set forth it reads:
In these circumstances the Minister regards a joint board as the only satisfactory form of administration for the proposed new undertaking and feels bound to recommend the rejection of Parts II, III and IV of the Bill.
the only satisfactory form of administration
are fairly strong and do not admit of much qualification.
The right hon. Gentleman is probably taking note of the use of the expression, a "very borderline case". That is, perhaps, putting it rather too finely. I reiterate, however, that my hon. Friend supported a joint board. He said so, even though he added that it was a borderline case. Perhaps we can leave it at that.
In all the circumstances, my right hon. Friend feels that in this case, also, the proper place for all the arguments to be deployed and examined is before a Select Committee of this House. I very much hope, therefore, that the Instruction will not be pressed and that the House will allow the Bill to go forward.