§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)
I beg to move, "That the Bill he now read a Second time."
There is an illusion in other countries that Scotland is only interested in water in spirit and not in its natural form; but the people of Scotland are faced with the same fundamental problem as all human beings—they must either live beside fresh water or bring it to where they live. The first choice is not open to Scotland, as it is to countries where streams and rivers meander through the countryside or water drains slowly through the soil. The steep sides of Ben Lomond have this disadvantage, that the water falls on its sides in the morning and by night has reached sea level. Scotland has no reason to complain of not having enough water falling upon it. Scotland's problem is to catch and hold the water after it has fallen. This involves large civil engineering projects similar to those engaged in for the great hydro-electric schemes that are being built there at the moment, with the additional necessity of piping the water from those far distant spots and gathering grounds to the centres of population.
If we were starting afresh, clearly the wise policy would be to arrange our distribution areas along the whole line of flow from the reservoirs down to the sea. Our plans, however, are qualified by the long existing water schemes which 1390 have already established reservoirs and pipe lines which are owned by existing water authorities. With a view to seeing this problem as a whole, Scotland was surveyed between 1943 and 1946. The results were conveyed to the local authorities in order that they might submit their schemes to us for dealing in a comprehensive way with the collection of water and its rational distribution throughout the whole area.
The modern demand is for water to be available inside the house itself. A great step forward was taken in the Water (Scotland) Act, 1946, when Parliament decreed that every new house must have an inside water supply. Many of the existing rural houses in Scotland, however, are still without the boon of a piped water supply, and this Bill, we hope, will go some way to meet this defect. In the second place, however, the demand for water is progressive. When the law of water in landward areas was governed by the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1867, the chairman of the Local Government Board for Scotland, then the central authority for public health, advised the parochial boards, then the local authorities, that the supply to be provided for domestic purposes should be not less than 10 gallons per head. When the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897, came into force, the advice of the Board was that while 10 gallons were required for domestic use,where there are water closets, 15 gallons per head will be necessary,and they thought that from 25 to 30 gallons should be allowed. Today, statistics show that with modern houses 30 to 35 gallons are being consumed per head per day, and engineers now calculate for making provision on the basis of 50 gallons per head.
Scotland has a desperate need for water. In some areas, including my own county, we are reaching the point where new houses cannot be built unless assured of water supplies, and there is the risk of their not having enough water supply at the moment. The rehousing of the people for the purposes of agriculture and great new industrial and mining developments in Scotland would be gravely hampered were the water supply not to advance side by side with these great new housing areas. Scotland has also stepped up its milk production in recent years, but even now 1391 milk is barred from sale for human consumption in some areas because the dairy farms are unable to satisfy the health authorities of the purity of their water supplies.
I have already mentioned that an engineering survey was made between 1943 and 1946 by the Department of Health for Scotland. Authorities were allowed until 31st March, 1946, in which to submit applications for grant, and it was found possible to give to the authorities outlines of the comprehensive proposals suggested by the survey, so that the grant applications could be framed accordingly. The claims came in, and showed that the Scottish need for grant had been under-estimated when the grant under the 1944 Act was fixed; and it is now calculated, after a detailed examination of the position throughout the country, that £20 million represents the grant which will be needed to provide a proper water supply system. With the sparse population in many parts of rural Scotland the cost must necessarily be higher per dwelling served than in the more densely populated parts of the country.
Priority will continue to be given to schemes where rural housing would otherwise be held up. However, a warning must be given against any impression that the increase in the amount of grant will be reflected in an acceleration in the existing programme of works. Progress depends today more upon availability of men and materials than upon money. All county councils have already had some part of their comprehensive water proposals provisionally accepted for grant, and these first phases will be allowed to proceed as quickly as the present shortage of labour and materials will allow. The £20 million relates to the schemes as a whole, and for some years the rate of progress must be limited by the resources available for capital investment. It should be realised, therefore, that the full programme may take 15 to 20 years to carry out. What the increase does is to enable Scottish local authorities to plan their future water developments in the knowledge that a grant based on their comprehensive programme has been approved.
The Bill, therefore, has three main purposes: First, it authorises an increase in a 1392 total grant made available in the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944, from £6⅜ million to £20 million. Secondly, to distribute this grant fairly it involves a revision of the methods of rating, and the Bill provides a uniform system of rating and charging for water in Scotland. Thirdly, it makes certain desirable amendments in the laws on water as contained in the 1946 Water (Scotland) Act and other statutes. Some of the provisions of the Bill are necessarily complicated, but the general proposals to which the Bill now gives effect have been discussed in the usual way with the local authorities, and agreement on the principles of the Bill has been reached. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the Bill will be noncontroversial.
In 1944, Parliament authorised grants for rural water supplies, and in the same year the first results of the engineering survey of Scottish water supplies, instituted by the then Secretary of State in 1943, became available. The system of rating for water so far as contained in public general legislation dates from the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1867. It was based on the assumption that in counties public supplies of water would be provided only in the populous places, and the law was that populous places, under the title of a "special water supply district," paid its own rate for its own water supply. If a proposed scheme was going to be too dear, it was just not proceeded with. The survey showed that there were large tracts of rural Scotland inadequately served, and that the best way to meet their needs was by comprehensive regional schemes which it would be difficult to finance under the special district procedure.
Moreover, outside public general legislation there were various systems of rating throughout the local Acts, and the question was how, with such various systems, could the grants made available by the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act be fairly assessed as between one authority and another?
In these circumstances, the then Secretary of State appointed in July, 1944, a strong committee under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Bryce Walker, ex-county clerk of Lanarkshire, to examine the whole question of rating and charging for water. The committee made a careful study of the problem and their report was 1393 published at the beginning of 1946. In general, Part I of the Bill follows closely the recommendations of the committee. The committee had no difficulty in reaching the view that if the full use of water for domestic purposes was to be encouraged in the interests of health and cleanliness, the proper method of paying for it was by means of a rate in the £ on the rent of the house.
I cannot claim, of course, that this view is held by all. We came across a case some years ago, when it was proposed to instal a proper supply of water in a village then served merely by wells, so that piped water supplies could be introduced into the houses. The suggested water rate of 3s. in the £ for this piped water supply was objected to by an old lady in the village. She was asked how much it cost her to get water in her own way, and she protested, "The waiter costs me naethin'—naethin' but saxpence a week tae a bit laddie for cairryin' twa pails a day frae the wal." It was pointed out to her that, as the tenant of a house rented at £4 a year, she would in future be paying only 6s. for water piped into her house a year instead of the 26s. paid to the "laddie" to carry it, and she readily agreed with the advantage, even at a seemingly large increase to the rates.
One of the defects of distributing fairly a water grant is that in Scotland we have seven different systems of rating for water. By this Bill we propose one uniform system. In future, the rate will be divided in two distinct categories—one, a public water rate; two, a domestic water rate.
The public water rate will be charged to meet the cost of the proportion of the water which is used for general purposes—public cleansing, fire and other general health uses—and will be calculated according to each water authority's discretion at from 20 to 33⅓ per cent. of the water expenditure to be met from rates. The Bryce Walker Committee recommended 25 per cent., but we have altered that to provide a degree of flexibility to suit some of the local authorities, and it runs from 20 to 33⅓ per cent. The rate will be levied as part of the general county or burgh rate, and it will be equally divided between owners and occupiers, whether they are supplied with water from the public system or not. The 1394 domestic water rate will be regarded henceforward as a commodity charge like the charge for gas or electricity and will be levied as a rate on occupiers of premises supplied with water as the most convenient way of charging for this commodity.
Where in local water Acts there is at present a domestic water rate, it is often divided equally between owner and occupier and the single rate of public general legislation divided in this way. By putting the liability for the domestic water rate solely on occupiers, the Bill will, in such cases, relieve the owner of part of his liability for rates. The Committee recommended, however, that, for a time, the occupier should be entitled to recover from rent, the amount of the owner's rate relief where it amounted to 10s. or more. The idea was essentially to have some regard for the terms of bargains current at the time the Act comes into force.
Circumstances vary very widely, however. Many tenants protected by the Rent Restrictions Acts would enjoy the right of recovery indefinitely. Many other tenants of local authority houses, which are not under the Rent Restrictions Acts, and mostly on monthly or quarterly tenancies, would never acquire any right or recovery whatsoever, and to complicate the matter still further, there are cases of small landholders whose conditions of tenure have quite peculiar characteristics of their own.
To do rough justice over the whole field, it is proposed to give the right of recovery in all cases for a period of five years, unless there is within that period a change of tenancy. The provision for recovery does not however operate where the owner's relief is less than 10s. a year. Five years seems a reasonable and convenient period to carry over the transition from the present to the new rating liability and it happens also to be the interval at which rents of agricultural holdings may be reviewed under the recent Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948.
The original arrangement for the provision of water in a landward area was for part of the county to be carved out and for a special rate for water to be fixed. In the 1929 Local Government (Scotland) Act, provision was made to enable the county council to assist a special district from county funds. In 1395 1934, the committee on the Scottish health services expressed the view that the system had outlived its usefulness. Emphasis is lent to that view by the proposals for comprehensive water schemes in county areas, and following the Bryce Walker Committee, the Bill provides in Clause 9 for the abolition of special water supply districts. To avoid abrupt changes in water rates, however, county councils are given a period of ten years in which the individual special water rate may be levelled up or down to the uniform domestic water rate of the rest of the county.
Water supply for the farm also raises rather special problems in Scotland. Our farms are usually larger, and our farm workers are usually housed on the farm. Bringing water to the farm or its workers involves a more expensive and complicated piping problem than in the general rural village. In Scotland the farmhouse, the farm cottages, the steading and the fields are given one valuation in the valuation roll. In local legislation for water, with its domestic rate, there is generally a separate valuation of the dwellings, which then pay the full domestic water rate. For the purposes of public general legislation, however, the expedient of derating has been adopted, and the fraction of one-eighth, on which water rates are paid, may operate unfairly in individual cases. The Bill, therefore, follows the Bryce Walker Committee Report in requiring a separate valuation of the farm dwellings on which the full domestic water rate will be payable.
In Scotland the county councils and the town councils are the rating authorities, but they are not all water authorities. Rutherglen Burgh, for example, is supplied by and pays for water to the City of Glasgow as if it were part of the City. Under Clause 11 a joint water board or an authority supplying water outside its local government boundaries will stop levying rates on the premises supplied where that has been the practice, and instead will requisition from the authority in which the water is being supplied.
One of the main purposes of the 1946 Act was, generally speaking, to enable the Secretary of State to confer on local 1396 authorities by order powers which they would otherwise have had to seek by provisional order subject to Parliamentary confirmation. All the indications are that the new system is operating satisfactorily. Some 12 orders have been made, dealing with such matters as adjustments of compensation water, acquisition of water rights, augmentation of supply, extension of limits of supply, authorisation of borrowing, and so on; and 11 draft orders are at present under consideration in the Department of Health. Part III of the Bill makes a number of amendments to the 1946 Act which are intended to simplify its administration and remove difficulties which have arisen.
In Scotland we have discovered it has been quite a common thing in the past for local water authorities, when negotiating for the right to take water to supply people resident in their areas, to enter into arrangements to supply water free or on special terms to estates from which the water was to be taken. The arrangements varied widely in their nature and scope, but it was common to most of them that the local authority undertook to supply the whole estate with water free of charge or on preferential terms in all time coming.
It is difficult now to pass judgment on these arrangements which appeared reasonable at the time they were made; but in many cases the original commitments of the water authority have since increased very greatly. For one thing the consumption of water has increased over the whole population so appreciably with the increasing appreciation of its hygienic importance. In addition, of course, on some of these estates factories have been built which consume water, and that water is supplied free from the authority. The demand for water by an estate has also, in many cases, grown appreciably because of the number of houses and other buildings requiring water on the estate, and also for such reasons as the development of dairy farming. Moreover, arrangements made years ago for water to be supplied on special monetary terms have ceased to have any relation to the much depreciated value of the currency of today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, we have had the disadvantage of two wars, 1397 for which I shall not allocate responsibility. I am afraid that one of the processes of history has been that the value of money has depreciated steadily rather than appreciated.
One or two instances will give a picture of the sort of arrangements that are in force in regard to this free water. Most of them are secured by special provisions in local Acts promoted by the local authorities themselves. In one case a local authority is bound to supply free of charge daily about 500,000 gallons of water to five estates, including a large mill. The local authority is also under obligation to meet the cost of maintaining the branch or service pipes from the main to the estates. Now, local authorities feel, quite naturally, that such obligations have become unreasonably onerous. While they continue, those benefiting under them will be freed from the obligation to pay the domestic water rate under this Bill, and consequently the local authorities will be involved in appreciable loss of revenue.
The Bill accordingly gives them means to bring such obligations to an end. If they cannot do this by agreement the Secretary of State may do so by order. In either case, the Bill provides for compensation, in assessing which regard will be had to the value of the rights at the time they are ended. Provision is also made whereby in future such obligations will be limited to the quantity of water supplied in the year preceding 27th October, 1948, and to premises supplied on that date. Meantime, of course, the Bill provides that until such obligations are brought to an end those benefiting under them will not be liable to the domestic water rate.
It may appear that this Bill lacks the romance of the great comprehensive schemes we have passed in the House, such as the National Health Service or the new insurance schemes; but life itself, health and happiness depend on a supply of good water, which is more vital even than food or homes. Our forebears cannot be reproached because they did not wholly foresee the great development of our communities and their needs. What is so amazing is that in so many cases they provided so well that since the war hundreds and thousands of houses have been provided with water supply ready to lay 1398 on. For this we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the foresight and enterprise of those water enthusiasts of the past. We have now reached the time, however, when another new great step forward must be taken in Scotland. This Bill makes it possible for the best and most economical use to be made of our natural resources. It permits of its fair distribution on equitable terms, and I have great pleasure in commending its acceptance to the House.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I think that every one of us will have appreciated the historical and statical review which the right hon. Gentleman has given us this afternoon, and also the detailed explanation which he has given of the terms of the Bill. I am sure we should all like to join with him in the tribute which he paid to those water enthusiasts who have provided so liberally for us in the past, and whose work has been of such benefit to the whole people of our country.
As the right hon. Gentleman has stated—and as, indeed, is stated in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum—the principal object of this Bill is to provide a uniform system of rating and charging for water; and, so far as that system is just and removes anomalies which exist at the present time,. I believe it is to be welcomed. The Bill really provides the machinery under which the local authority can reimburse itself for the expenditure which it has been called upon to make in supplying water. It is a machinery Bill, pure and simple; there is no great political issue at stake, and I do not think that many party prejudices can be raised by this Measure. In view of these facts, and because it appears to us that this is both a logical and a workmanlike Measure, we on this side of the House do not propose to oppose its Second Reading. Any detailed criticisms we have to make we shall keep until the Committee Stage, when we hope to put down Amendments to improve the Measure generally.
The Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, is divided into four Parts. Part I deals solely with the recommendations of the Bryce Walker Committee, and in general adopts those recommendations. Part II is short, concise and very much to the point, and in general is satisfactory. The financial 1399 provisions it makes are much more in keeping with costs as they are today than the amounts laid down in the 1944 Act, at which time people were not able to for see the phenomenal increases which have since taken place. We welcome this Part of the Bill as being a more realistic approach to the problem of financing the development of our rural water supplies. Part HI of the Bill amends the 1946 Act. I am sorry to differ from the right hon. Gentleman at this point. He informed us that this Act was working well, but according to the information I have received the local authorities are finding it somewhat unsatisfactory. They complain that the procedure is very protracted and that the orders the right hon. Gentleman issues under the terms of that Act are couched in language which is incomprehensible to the average layman, which is something that happens in connection with almost all the orders issued under Acts of Parliament; I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour to ease that situation as time goes on.
Part IV, apart from Clause 34, which will, I suppose, since the passing of the Local Government Act, 1948, be common to all Bills conferring powers under which a charge on rates may be increased, deals with interpretation and repeals. I would draw the attention of the Lord Advocate to the fact that English terminology seems to have crept into this Bill. I am given to understand that words appear in the Bill which have no meaning and are nowhere defined in Scottish valuation statutes. I am referring to the use of the word "premises" in Clauses 2, 3 and 4 and the word "hereditaments" in Clause 16. If my information is correct, I think it is a great pity that these foreign words should have found their way into a Scottish Bill, and I trust that they will be removed before very long.
I now wish to return to Part I of the Bill and to mention certain matters to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer in his speech. As I understand the position, it is that as from 16th May, 1949, expenditure on water, which is not otherwise met, is to an extent, varying between one-third and one-fifth, to be met by a public water rate leveled equally on the owner and occupier and 1400 assessed on all rateable subjects, and the remainder of the expenditure is to be borne by the domestic water rate. If that is correct, then we are in general agreement. I think the House will agree that the proportion of expenditure application able to the public services mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman should be a public rate.
The right hon. Gentleman partly explained how it came about that he has departed from the recommendations of the Bryce Walker Committee in regard to the proportion to be borne by the public water rate. He told us that the proportion laid down by the Bryce Walker Committee was 25 per cent. There was to be a minimum charge per £1 of 2d. and a maximum charge of 6d., whereas the Bill omits that minimum and maximum and the charge is to be as between one-fifth and one-third. I should like to know in fuller detail the reasons which lead the right hon. Gentleman to depart from the proposals of the Bryce Walker Committee. The public water rate is a charge on all rateable subjects. The right hon. Gentleman confirmed that, but here there may be a difference of opinion. That difference of opinion was recognised in the Report of the Bryce Walker Committee.
The kind of question which comes to my mind is whether it is just that the same rate should be applicable to all subjects. All subjects do not receive equal services. For example, can it be contended that those whose houses are in high altitudes or in remote areas can receive the same services as other subjects? Can it be contended that these people, who can never hope to receive a public water supply and do not receive the other benefits, should be charged at the full rate? The right hon. Gentleman told us that there were three ingredients in the public rate—fire, street cleansing and; sewage. There is a fourth, and that is the health aspect of the matter. If only one of these services is being received then surely the full rate should not be charged. The House may remember it was argued by the Bryce Walker Committee that people in remote places did receive the benefits of what they call "The health insurance aspect." When I think of some of the places which might come in under that, I consider that argument to be very thin indeed. I think 1401 that the Committee were more influenced by administrative convenience than by justice. In my opinion, it is fantastic to charge the full rate on subjects who have not and are not likely ever to have a supply of public water.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I do not pretend to have exhausted all the public services in my speech. The question of justice is always a difficult one. I remember the argument used to be whether a blind man should pay rates for street lighting. It is impossible to get absolute justice in these matters. As I said, I did not exhaust all the public services. For instance, I could have dilated on fountains.
§ Commander Galbraith
I agree that there are many public services the right hon. Gentleman could have mentioned. Nevertheless, I do not think full justice is being done, and I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will deal with the matter a little more fully.
I now turn to the domestic water rate, which is payable by occupiers on the gross annual value of their lands and heritages, but only if they are provided with a supply of water by the local authority. Technically, I understand that such a supply is given if the pipe main happens to pass within such distance as makes it suitable to be connected at a reasonable cost—I think the Lord Advocate will find I am quoting almost the exact words. The reference is Section 8 (2) of the 1948 Act. If that is so, then a very important question immediately arises. There are parts of the country where very great sums of money have been expended by private persons in providing a water supply to their houses and other buildings.
In that connection, the Bryce Walker Committee suggested that these premises should be exempt from the domestic water rate, subject only to the supply being satisfactory so far as health is concerned. So far as I can discover there is no Clause in the Bill which deals with the recommendations of the Bryce Walker Committee. In view of the vast schemes which are contemplated it seems to me that at any time a main may be laid and placed in such a position that it can be connected to premises at a reasonable cost. I want to know whether, in these circumstances, the 1402 occupier will be charged the domestic water rate although he already has his own private supply?
I have said that the public water rate should only be paid when a supply of water is being provided. That is the position I also take up in relation to the domestic water rate, and I believe that to be right according to my reading of Clause 2 (2). If that is so I should like to know how that applies to Clause 6, when we come to deal with shootings and fishings? Hon. Members know that all shootings and fishings, whether or not they have lodges or huts on them, appear in the valuation roll, and I want to know if they are to be charged the domestic water rate whether or not they receive a supply of water? One can envisage a main being laid across the top of an open moor, and it being held that a supply of water was being provided. I want to know whether it is intended to assess shooting and fishings for payment at that rate?
Both in the Bryce Walker Report and in the Bill itself there is raised once more the whole question of the Scottish rating system. I know I cannot discuss that matter now, but I would, in passing, express the hope that the Minister, fortified by all the numerous reports he has at his disposal, is keeping this matter under constant and active consideration. As I said at the opening of my remarks, in general we accept the principle of this Bill. We intend to confine our criticisms to the Committee stage, but it is our purpose today to help to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
This is the first time I have had the honour of addressing this House, and I should like to ask right hon. and hon. Members to extend to me the toleration and leniency of judgment which is customary on such occasions. I want to make only two points in connection with this Bill. First, it seems to me to end a considerable number of practices and situations that are by now antiquated. The local Acts, under which a very considerable proportion of Scotland's population receive their water supply, are not brought to an end by this Bill but a number of their provisions are replaced, for instance. The special water supply districts are dissolved, the power of joint 1403 water boards to rate for water ends, and, as my right hon. Friend explained, what is known as "free" water is brought to a standstill. It cannot be extended.
These provisions and situations had their uses in their own day, but in most cases it is now desirable that we should abolish them. The power of joint water boards to rate for water seems an unnecessary complication of the Scottish water rating system. Generally speaking, the ending of a number of these antiquated practices seems to have simplified very considerably the whole field of rating and administration. I do not know that streamlining is always necessarily a good thing, but surely the simplification of administration and of water rating in Scotland is itself a good thing.
I believe, however, that the benefit which comes from the ending of some of these ancient practices is only a symptom of something rather more important. This seems to be the fundamental importance of the Bill. These practices grew up, in the main, because they had local value. For instance, joint water supply districts were established in regions in which it was possible at a fairly reasonable cost to provide a piped water supply, but did not extend to districts in which such supply could only be produced at a very, high cost. Local Acts, by their very nature, have a local application, and I believe that the departure of these old practices and ideas shows that we are now for the first time beginning to see the wood and not the trees. The Bill shows that the Government are viewing the problem of Scottish water rating as a whole, and are not simply concerned with particular localities. That is an important feature of this Measure.
My second point concerns future development. Now we have reached the stage where we can survey the whole field of Scottish water development and rating at once, advantage can be taken of that to go ahead with better supplies of water for our communities. In this the Government take only a part, but a major part, in clearing away obstructions and in encouraging and financing such supplies. They leave actual development, as is desirable and customary, to the local authorities, but their part is a very important part, as my right hon. Friend 1404 made clear when he mentioned the money to be used for grants in aid. In addition, there are one or two other provisions in the Bill under which the Government help with the further capital necessary for the development of water supplies. If it is felt that the occupier rates are not sufficient for capital development, assistance can be obtained from other sources towards the necessary expenditure.
It is extremely desirable that the development of water supply schemes should be left to the local authorities, and it is worth while noticing that this service is being left in their hands at a time when so much criticism is heard about their functions being reduced. In my own constituency there was a recent example of the basic importance of water supply in connection with industrial development. The local authorities there wisely came to a decision which will enable projected developments to take place without any hindrance through lack of water.
The development by local authorities, however, is a matter which involves a certain amount of fairly careful judgment, because the local authority boundaries do not always coincide, as we know, with the natural boundaries of the catchment areas. While it is desirable, therefore, for each local authority to develop water supplies within its own boundaries and for its own citizens as well as possible, we also in this Bill rest a good deal of our future development on the wise judgment of the local authorities in the combinations that they make over particular areas, because such combinations will continue, of course, to be necessary as they have been in the past. We may take it that the local authorities, aided by the the present Bill, will be able to go ahead and plan Scotland's water supply on a rather more advanced, more modern and fuller basis than before. For those reasons the Bill ought to be welcomed.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I am sure the whole House will wish me to congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. MacPherson) on a most excellent maiden speech. I feel particularly privileged because my own constituency happens to border on the Stirling and Falkirk Burghs constituency, 1405 and it falls to me to say how much we appreciated his speech. He has spoken with knowledge and has put his finger on one or two points which I am sure will arise in this Debate. We all look forward to hearing from him in our future Debates in this House.
Like my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), I should like to start the short speech I hope to make by expressing my appreciation of the expansion of £13 million under the Rural Water Supplies Act. Originally, we were all agreed on what was more or less an estimate at that time, but the great increase in costs that have taken place since then has proved to be embarrassing and has shown us that the sum previously voted was quite inadequate. I only hope that the new total will be sufficient, and that we shall not find that ever increasing costs will again absorb a fresh amount of money we are to have under this Bill.
In Perthshire and Kinross, as in many other rural counties, we are only too well aware of the great necessity from the point of view of food production and helping the labour problem in the countryside, of a great expansion in our rural water supplies and also of providing proper sewerage schemes. We have still got communities in Western Perthshire which have neither a proper water supply nor proper public sanitation. We have also villages and burghs whose growth has been such that the whole system of sewerage now must be replaced by a more comprehensive scheme. All these are essential if we are going to retain our rural communities in the countryside. Therefore, I welcome the provision of the financial grants whereby that can be accomplished.
There is one point I should like to mention in connection with this part of the Bill. We are all pretty well aware of the shortages that exist in respect of materials. I assume that the Government, when going forward with this expansion of the funds available to meet the increased capital outlay that will be necessary to carry out the expansion schemes in the rural areas, are keeping in mind the question of availability of materials for the various jobs. I should like to be assured that the Government are remembering that, when through 1406 water mains are laid along the main road, the people who are going to connect up with these mains have the necessary materials to do so.
Although I cannot say that it is within my own experience, I have heard that there is a great shortage of small diameter piping. The large main, the four-inch or six-inch pipe is one thing, but the people who want to connect up with it must have a smaller diameter pipe to lead into the house. They also want such things as basins, lavatories, and so on. I should like to ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State to give us an assurance that these materials will be available for the public so that they can benefit from these schemes.
Looking at the rest of the Bill I am not so warm in my appreciation. I speak as a representative of a rural constituency where conditions are extremely diverse. The whole of the county of Kinross and a large part of the county of Perthshire contains almost every possible form of rural life. We have large dairy farms supplying the urban areas, and we have also vast tracts of mountain land and villages in the glens remote from the public highways. County towns and small burghs are units by themselves enjoying all the amenities produced by local authority administration. It is quite otherwise when we turn to the purely rural areas where there is a great diversity of circumstances. It is because of this great diversity in circumstances and the differences of conditions that I find it difficult to welcome one particular feature of this Bill. Obviously the principal intention of the Bill is to introduce a uniform system of rating, as the Secretary of State has said, and the public provision of water supplies by means of a uniform system of rating. I know today the trend is towards standardisation. I quite often deplore that trend, though I hope I am always willing to consider it if it can be shown that it is essential to some higher purpose.
In this instance I am not myself convinced that there has been established any essential need. I am not assured that there is a sound and unanswerable case for uniformity. What is the particular virtue in standardisation of water charges by a county council? Do all the ratepayers in the county enjoy equal supplies of water? Wherein, for example, is it 1407 an improvement to levy a charge by means of a public water rate on properties where either there is no water supply at all or where the supply, as my hon. and gallant Friend has said, has already been provided by a private proprietor at very great expense indeed?
The Report of the Bryce Walker Committee supports its recommendation of the system of the public water rate by stressing the public service aspect of water supply. The Committee illustrated various services such as fire-fighting, sewer flushing and so on, and it says that a supply of adequate water is necessary to guard against an outbreak of water borne diseases. This is all excellent, I admit, for those in a position to enjoy such facilities, but I find it difficult to imagine that a farmer in Glen Lyon away up in the glens, enjoys any benefit from street watering in Crieff. I find it equally difficult to imagine that his brother farmer in Glen Devon is thrilled at the idea of public lavatories in Kinross; still less can I imagine any enthusiasm for paying a public water rate on the part of a farmer who, eager to get good water, is nevertheless condemned to drink contaminated water from the Goodie Burn in Perthshire.
§ Mr. Snadden
Mention has been made in the Committee's Report of the comparable costs of water and gas, electricity and coal, but whatever the effect of nationalisation, it has never been seriously suggested that there should be a public electricity rate or a public gas rate levied on persons who do not, in fact, enjoy such services. There appear to be two categories of persons who are to be made liable unjustifiably to pay the public water rate. The first and most obvious category includes the people in remote areas who never will get a public water supply.
§ Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)
Is the argument of the hon. Gentleman that because a person lives, away from other people, the fact that disease might affect the other people is a matter of no concern to him?
§ Mr. Snadden
It is really far-fetched if the hon. Member is going to bring in 1408 the subject of disease and link it up with a hill sheep farm in a remote area which will never get a supply of water at all.
The second category in which the rate is to be levied unjustifiably—I am not taking a prejudiced view of this matter but am only trying to put a fair case—is that of the people living in areas that may ultimately benefit, but not for many years. I am told that the Loch Turret scheme in Perthshire will probably not yield results for 10 years, yet the people are to pay the public water rate. I do not think that is fair. Until a public water supply is available to them they should not be obliged to pay the public water rate.
Discussion of the details of the Bill will take place in Committee and I do not want to delay the House unduly now by referring to small points. Questions of principle are raised, however. The first is to be found in Clause 2 in which it would appear, from Subsection (5), that a whole class of occupiers is to be excluded from liability to pay the domestic water rate even though water will in fact be supplied to them. I have done my best for this class of person in the past and I am not finding fault now about their exclusion in any way, but this specific exclusion of small landholders is treatment as a specially favoured class. I appreciate the fact that the Bryce Walker Committee drew attention to the difficulties in this connection, but I cannot believe that they are insoluble. I am informed that these people are only too willing to pay for their water and that they would prefer to do so rather than to have a supply of electricity. They want the water first. To make one class pay the public rate when they are not to have any water at all and have no likelihood of getting any, and then to excuse a particular class from payment of the domestic rate for water which they are actually to receive, does not seem to me to be sensible. I shall be glad if the Joint Under-Secretary of State will let us know precisely why this inconsistency arises.
Under Clause 8 there is another matter of principle. It appears that in the event of the financial burden of providing a water supply being so great as to make the domestic water rate unduly heavy upon the occupiers liable to make the payment, the county council may defray 1409 out of the rates the additional expenditure which would arise. The final words of the Clause are those to which I would direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman:Where part of such cost is defrayed out of the rates it shall be defrayed out of county rate.That is not very clear. I may be misinterpreting what those words mean and if so the Minister will no doubt correct me. It appears that the additional cost is to be borne, not on the public water rate but upon the general county rate. Otherwise the Clause would say so. If that is the case, I would like to know why.
The proportion of the cost to be paid out of the public water rate may be anything from one-fifth to one-third of the total. If a share of the cost which should be borne by the domestic water rate is to be transferred to the general county rate, then that will be concealing from the ratepayers the true cost of the water supply. That arrangement seems to me to be bad accounting and wrong in principle and, from the point of view of public administration, open to the same objection which I mentioned a moment ago in connection with the indiscriminate levying of the public water rate. I should be glad to have an answer to this point.
The last point which I wish to put to the Minister and which he might clear up concerns the provisions of Clause 23 which are reminiscent of our old friend the Scottish Agricultural Bill which we debated some time ago. The Clause gives power of entry for survey purposes. The concession is made that where such a survey, which includes the carrying out of work, such as boring, and which would be detrimental to the carrying on of the work of a statutory undertaking, it will not be carried out except with the authority of the appropriate Minister. It is evident that the authors of the Bill have conceded the general principle of protecting the legitimate rights of occupiers of land, but why should its application be restricted to a few nationalised industries or public authorities? Why should not the farmer, when work has to be carried out, be placed in the same position of objecting and saying: "That is not going to be done. I cannot allow you to damage my land and walk over my crops without the special permission of the Minister"? I 1410 think there is an omission here. I am sure the Secretary of State will agree with me, when he realises that food production comes first among the priorities. The producer of food should be placed in the same position as nationalised industries.
Those are all the observations I wish to make. There are others I might have made, but my right hon. and gallant Friend has sufficiently aired them. I have criticised one or two points in the Bill, but I welcome it generally and I hope that the Minister will be able to remove some of the anomalies to which we have drawn attention.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) in regard to the details which he has-just expounded, but it seems to me that there is a certain principle which he discussed and which is rather important. It is a principle which would appear to separate hon. Members on the other side from ourselves. We view certain services as public services, necessary to the public welfare. The history of an adequate water service is that it has become increasingly necessary in the interests not only of the individual but of the community. The community benefits as the result of it. I suggest that even if a man does not happen to be drawing a direct water supply, he nevertheless benefits as a result of the fact that the community itself is benefiting. A healthy and well-doing community ultimately benefits the individual, even though he is not getting water from a tap from a supply laid on in his house.
§ Mr. Snadden
Would the hon. Member apply that argument in the case of electricity and gas, and charge an electricity rate to those who do not get a supply?
§ Mr. Willis
That is rather a different matter. There is a difference here. Plenty of people contribute to public services which are considered essential to the public interest, whether they receive that service or not.
Both sides of the House welcome this Bill, I imagine, because it marks a step along the road to the proper development of an adequate water supply for the country. It is another milestone in the history of our water supplies, an interesting history In fact, not only was I interested 1411 in what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had to say, but I have also been interested in the more detailed history of the development of our water supplies. My right hon. Friend might suggest to some of the education committees that it would make a good study in citizenship in our schools.
Students would then learn how private enterprise operated this service 100 years ago, and how it deliberately robbed the citizens of Edinburgh. They might read the evidence which was given to a Committee of this House and another place when Edinburgh asked for permission to take over its water supply; when solid brass blocks with a one-eighth hole were put into the water supply pipes to prevent people from getting a water supply, and women living in the top flats of the tenements in Edinburgh had to stay awake all night to do their washing.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman should read the history of Glasgow, which would give him a better view of it.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
On the contrary, the hon. and gallant Member ought to read the history of the Duke of Montrose, Loch Katrine and the Glasgow water supply.
§ Mr. Willis
Certainly these interjections indicate that it is an interesting subject and an illuminating one. This Bill deals with three things. First, it applies certain principles to the rating charges for water throughout Scotland. Secondly, it provides for an increased expenditure of £14 million on the provision of water in rural areas. Thirdly, it amends the last Water Act with which we dealt.
The first part of the Bill seems to me to be desirable. I think the hon. Member for West Perth said that he could see no reason for standardising water rating throughout Scotland. One reason is that it is difficult to put into operation the provisions of the 1946 Act, whereby authorities can combine, without standardisation. There are other reasons, but 1412 that is an important one. If we pass a Bill to do certain things, we have to see that it is made possible and simple to do them.
The Bill departs from some of the recommendations of the Bryce Walker Committee but, on the whole, it is rather more flexible than those recommendations, and for that reason I welcome it. However, there appear to be certain omissions. For instance, my attention has been drawn to the fact that theatres and cinemas are not mentioned at all and that, being assessed at a ratable value many times higher than domestic properties, under this Bill they will have to pay the full domestic rate. Factories, workshops, shops and other premises, however, pay varying amounts of the domestic rate—a half, a quarter or whatever it may be—but in the case of cinemas and theatres no provision is made. I do not know whether that is deliberate. If so, perhaps my hon. Friend could give us the arguments for omitting these and placing them on the same basis as domestic dwellings? If it is not deliberate, perhaps my hon. Friend will give an undertaking to go into this matter before the Committee stage?
I think everybody welcomes the second part of the Bill, which provides more ample facilities in rural districts. In the counties adjacent to Edinburgh—for instance, in East Lothian and Berwickshire—we still have old age pensioners in certain villages having to draw water from wells 200 or 300 years old—another legacy of the party opposite. These conditions exist in a county which contains the homes of more noble families than any other county in Scotland. They do no draw their water from wells 200 or 300 years old; most of them are provided with adequate private water supplies.
I was a little perturbed by the statement of the Secretary of State that these provisions will take some 15 or 20 years to bring into operation. We ought to try to reduce that target. His argument was that we could not build houses until we had adequate water supplies. If that is true, it means that we shall not get houses in the rural areas for a longer period than 15 to 20 years.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
§ Mr. Willis
Yes, that is what it means. The logic of the argument is that we shall not get houses until after that.
§ Mr. Willis
Well, we shall not finish our programme. This problem has to be tackled in a far more urgent manner than that. Appreciating the difficulties at the present time, I do not think we have a right to anticipate that these difficulties will still be there in five, six or seven years' time. That the position will be easier is what we should expect, and then we should be able to tackle this job much more expeditiously.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that within the next five or six years so much progress will have been made that the prognostication of the Secretary of State will prove to be wrong, and there will be the necessary water supply within a reasonable period? In other words, does he expect more in five years under this Government than in 200 years under the others?
§ Mr. Willis
Certainly I expect that, and I expect the Members on my own Front Bench to expect that. My argument is that we have a right to expect that the position with regard to supplies of raw materials necessary for this work will be easier in six or seven years' time than it is today.
I shall only make one more point, and that is about the provision concerning the special privileges which have existed for many years. I broach that matter because my right hon. Friend talked about paying compensation to the people who were to lose these privileges. I consider that to be an entirely wrong approach. Without going into the merits of how they obtained them, these people have enjoyed these privileges for a long time. That they are valuable privileges enjoyed at the expense of the community cannot be denied. We should say to these people, "You have enjoyed these privileges for a long time at the expense of the community. We believe now that those privileges should cease, but we are prepared to pay you a hardship allowance if you suffer any hardship." In other words, we should pay hardship allowances for the loss of these privileges, not compensation, and I hope that when this matter is considered these allowances will be treated not in a too generous fashion 1414 as compensation, but on the lines I have suggested.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
I do not propose to take up the time of the House for very long, nor, if he will forgive me, will I follow in detail the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis), beyond sympathising, almost to the extent of tears running down my face, at the suffering about which we have heard at the hands of the wicked Tories for, I think, two hundred, if not two thousand, years past.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I was particularly interested in the noble families who got their water elsewhere than from a two-hundred-years-old well. I would like to know similarly the number of Socialist councillors drawing their water from sources other than a two-hundred-years-old well. I think it will be found that there is a fairly even distribution between Socialist councillors and noble families. If, however, there are more noble families than Socialist councillors in Scotland, that merely illustrates the common sense of the Scottish people, which is very obvious.
I want to deal briefly with the question of expenditure. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) that we welcome this increase in the total amount to be granted for water supplies, because the original £6 million—I think it was—was definitely far too little to be really effective. But however desirable it may be, we must watch this question of expenditure, because the amount of money being expended today by the Government on various schemes, some bad and some good, is colossal. The only place from which that money will come is the pocket of the taxpayer. If we are to spend more money—and it is so easy for us in this House to throw in another £10 or £20 million—it still has to come from the same source; we must therefore make sure, if we wish to have these schemes—and everybody wants this water scheme—the Government do everything in their power to ensure that the source of supply 1415 of that money is not taxed out of existence and the money no longer available.
There is a vicious circle whereby the Government require enormous amounts of money for their schemes. An enormous sum is required for capital investment, for instance, but the terrific taxation of today is preventing that capital from being available. Such a vicious circle would swamp us, and I hope that the Secretary of State has not overlooked this danger, although I do not suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer pays very much attention to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
No, but that we want the money for it; and we will not get the money for it by sitting on industry as is done at present. That is very important to remember, because that is where the money comes from.
I would like to emphasise a point made by the hon. Member for West Perth about the question of water supply provided by a council within a hundred yards, or whatever is the fixed figure, of premises already provided with water by the owner. I hope we shall have an assurance that where those premises—whether cottar houses, steadings, farm houses or any other kind of house—are provided with water by the owner, they shall not be taxed for water just because it happens to run past the front door. It is admittedly available to them, but they are not likely to want it. I hope we shall have an assurance on this point.
The other matter on which I want to speak is the overall use of water in Scotland. When each of these Measures comes forward—whether water supply, hydro-electric development or anything else, all of which affect water—I always take the opportunity of pleading for an overall survey of the potential water supply of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman and others will remember that at the time when the Tummel Garry scheme was being considered, there was a promise that an overall water examination would take place. It has not taken place so far, however, and these Measures are unfortunately, coming out rather piecemeal in consequence.
1416 We cannot play the fool with water supplies in any country, because water has a very peculiar habit of doing what it pleases. There are considerable areas in Scotland where, broadly speaking, water is being diverted to such an extent that they are almost entirely free of water supply. If we take, for instance, the Garry and the area it covers, people who know the area or pass near to it will know that for a very large part of the year it is practically dry. The hope is that in areas covered by the Garry, or through which the Garry passes, people may be tempted to come back on to the land, which we badly want them to do; but there is no guarantee at all that there will be any water for them if they do come back. This is only one example: there are many others.
I hope this time that the Secretary of State will give us an assurance that under his present powers he will set up a committee of experts to examine the total overall water supply potentiality of Scotland. There is competition today between county councils, burgh councils, hydro-electric authorities, farms and all other interests which want water, and frequently it is found that two or three of these people all turn to the same loch, river or stream. That shows bad overlapping, which ought not to exist when we are dealing with such a precious thing as water. Rather than merely hope again, I ask the Secretary of State once more, as I asked his predecessors, to consider making an overall examination of this kind.
We are cutting down vast tracts of forest in Scotland and this in itself will affect the supply of water to an incredible degree within a very few years. Water is being diverted from one direction and being shoved through a hill to come out in another direction where it was not intended to flow. Water is being diverted and timber is being cut down to such an extent that water sheds are being altered, and one side of a hill which used to have an abundance of flowing water is now almost dry and the other side of the hill is getting it all. We cannot go on like this indefinitely. I do wish people would realise that fact, because it is the most serious feature of anything connected with water supplies, whether in Scotland or in any other country in the world.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles, Southern)
I should like to pay to the Secretary of State for Scotland one of the highest compliments that can be given to him on behalf of Peebles and South Midlothian. I think it will be within his memory that, speaking during the passage of the Water (Scotland) Act, 1946, I emphasised from these benches that the £6⅜ million allotted to Scotland for the purpose of supplying piped water for the rural areas was grossly inadequate. It says a great deal for the Secretary of State that he is able to come to this House, in face of the strained nature of our national economy, and give us a Bill which adds something like £14 million towards the object of improving the water supplies to our rural areas which we had in mind in 1946.
I come from a county which is the home of reservoirs. Peebles has three great reservoirs, two of which are for Edinburgh Corporation, to whom I have previously paid a great compliment on the foresight of the City Fathers. The third great reservoir supplies West Lothian County Council. Strangely enough, however, the county of Peebles, because its financial resources have made it impossible, finds that it cannot provide an adequate reservoir for itself.
In the rural areas of Peebles there is a great dearth of piped water. Only last week I had to refer to the Scottish Office a complaint from an area where one of my constituents gets fresh water supplies only six days a week. He receives his supply of water by railway and on the seventh day—the Sabbath—he is not supposed to use any fresh water, because on Sundays the railway by which it is delivered does not operate. In the county of Midlothian many properties have had to be abandoned because of the shortage of water, even within two miles of the boundary of the city of Edinburgh. I have in mind that great rural area which lies between Gore Bridge and Pathhead Ford, where, on one farm in particular—Vogrie Grange—the cottars' wives must take their prams and children with them on winter mornings, when snow is on the ground, pushing their prams with one hand and carrying a pail of water in the other, for a quarter of a mile so that they may obtain sufficient water to carry on the 1418 ordinary duties of life and bringing up families.
In that same area one of our Departments is conducting boring operations for coal and the population are apprehensive because they are afraid that the antiquated method of securing a water supply will be endangered. I am happy to say that the Minister of Fuel and Power has been very considerate and sympathetic in this matter and, notwithstanding the great need for coal, the Ministry have agreed that they will delay operations until this Bill is on the Statute Book, in order to allow the water authority to bring a supply of piped water from the great reservoir of Gladhouse right across the Roman Camp and give something like an adequate supply of water to that district. I wish to compliment the Ministry of Fuel and Power and I wish I could extend the same compliment to the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. However, that is another matter.
I think every section of this House welcomes the Bill. Reference has been made to taxation, and I wish to emphasise the fact that we shall never get anything like an adequate distribution of taxation in Scotland so long as the derating Act of 1929 is on the Statute Book. Notwithstanding what hon. Members opposite may say, it is a cold, concrete fact that under the derating Act of 1929 many people in Scotland are paying rates for other people's property. I hope the Department will end that and will take early steps to abolish the derating Act and institute a Measure for the taxation of land values in Scotland.
Reference has been made to the analogy between gas and electricity on the one hand and water on the other. I wish to point out to hon. Members that there is a great and vital difference between water and gas and electricity. Gas and electricity are all metered, but water is only metered in certain instances under the present system. Under the new system I do not think the Secretary of State contemplates metering all water supplies. In all the circumstances, I think my right hon. Friend has put before the House a Measure that marks the latent ability which everyone in this House knows he possesses, and it augurs well for government in Scotland that we 1419 can compliment the Secretary of State on one of the finest Measures put before the House since 1945.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Major Ramsay (Forfar)
Like most hon. Members, I think this Bill is a step in the right direction. In my constituency water is one of the greatest needs, and I can think of no other single factor which could do more to help our rural life and food output there than a good supply of water.
I wish to make a point concerning the supply of draining services. If we take a large amount of water from one area to another through a pipe, something has to be done about taking the water away. In my part of the world, so far I have only heard emphasis placed on the water scheme itself—the scheme to provide the water. I hope my fears are unfounded, but I think it most important that we should not find in the end that we have succeeded in bringing a lot of water from one place to another and then that there is nothing we can do to get rid of the water. Such a situation, to say the least, would be extremely aggravating to everyone. I hope we may have some assurance on this point from the Government Front Bench, because it is a matter of importance. I do not know whether the various schemes in my constituency have been approved, but we ought to be thinking about drainage at the same time as we consider water supply schemes; otherwise, trouble may arise.
Next I wish to support the plea made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) for an overall survey of water resources in Scotland. There must be some kind of liaison and co-operation between the various authorities which require water supplies. For example, water authorities and hydro-electric authorities both need water, and I can give an example from my constituency of the kind of thing that I fear. The main tributary of the North Esk River runs down to Glen Esk and at the top of Glen Esk two tributaries, the Lee and the Mark join. A very excellent water scheme has been sent to the Secretary of State, and, for all I know, may have been approved, called the Loch Lee Scheme. I imagine that it would take away most of the water from 1420 the Lee, especially in the summer. I have also heard rumours concerning the Mark, and that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board wish to take the waters of the Mark somewhere else for one of their schemes. I do not know whether this is true, but if so, it will mean that there will be no compensation water flowing down to the North Water of the North Esk in a dry summer. That would have an extremely detrimental effect on the quite considerable tourist traffic up Glen Esk—thousands go to see it every year. It would be most unfortunate, also, for the fishing industry, which is considerable both in the river and in the estuary. Most of the spawning beds would go. Some reference to this matter from the Government Front Bench would be very welcome.
Lastly, I wish to add my support to the plea made by other hon. Members concerning people who live in crofts in remote areas to whom this scheme can bring absolutely no benefit. I do not believe that the Secretary of State's argument of other services holds water—certainly not water on which rates should be paid. I do not think they should have to pay water rates, domestic or otherwise, at all. I hope the Secretary of State will consider this matter. It would be grossly unfair if these people had to participate in paying for something from which they cannot benefit.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline Burghs)
I join with hon. Members who have said that we are discussing a very important Measure this afternoon, and I hope that when the Committee stage is reached we shall have a full and frank discussion of the various provisions which it contains. I am very pleased to have the opportunity of taking part in the Debate today because it kindles in my memory scenes of past days, especially in connection with the Local Government Act, 1929, of which so much has been said. The House knows that on previous occasions I have dissented from many of the provisions of that Act. It was an Act which dealt with matters that are raised again in the Bill which we are now discussing.
Without prejudice, I would join with the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) about the clamour for uniformity—one uniform rate for public 1421 health, for public water supply and for domestic water supply. I wonder how this principle will work out in the county from which I come? The county of Fife is famous for the number of small burghs within it, and burgh authorities in the past, being the most progressive, have gone ahead with water schemes, and have left the county far behind. I wonder whether some of the burgh authorities in that county will not have a rough deal as a result of the desire for a uniform water rate?
A number of these small burghs have their own water supply, which has been constructed and operated by those burghs. The ratepayers in those burghs have made big sacrifices in the past in order to provide an adequate water supply. Now, by the provisions of this Bill and those of the Water Act, 1946, which he has power to operate, the Secretary of State has the power to compel amalgamations. I wonder how the small burgh authorities, or indeed the large burghs—there are two such in our county as well as a number of small ones which have their own water supply—are to fare if perchance the Secretary of State should decide, in order to achieve the uniformity which he may desire, to compel the burgh councils to amalgamate with the county in order to have one water authority for the whole area?
I am aware that provision is made in the Bill for joint water authorities, and it may be possible for the burgh authorities and the county council of Fife to reach a quite satisfactory arrangement whereby the whole of the water shall be under the control of one joint authority. I hope that it will be possible for them to do that, but I am afraid that unless there is more come-and-go in the future than there has been up to now, the Secretary of State might find it necessary, in order to get that uniformity he desires, to compel the amalgamation of the various water authorities to take place. I repeat, I hope that it will not be necessary; I hope that a satisfactory arrangement will be made and that a joint water board will be set up.
In the County of Fife there are, in addition to the small burghs and the two large burghs which have their own water supplies, two big schemes which are operated by the county council. I wish to say a word about that aspect because 1422 it, too, concerns the Act of 1929. I can remember when I was a member of the district committee of the county council. That committee had great powers. It undertook an expenditure running into hundreds of thousands of pounds to provide a water supply. It is quite true that one of the things which influenced the committee to do so was the need to provide water to Rosyth Dockyard, and Rosyth came into the scheme as well as the district committee. There was a district committee of the county council which could sit down, draft a scheme and have it submitted to the county council for approval. That is all they got from the county council. The financial responsibility rested upon the district committee.
The same is true of the Kirkcaldy district of the county council. They also provided a great water scheme. Today we have two districts in the county which did little or nothing in the way of providing water supply for their area, which are now being supplied from the two districts which undertook the construction of those great schemes. I wonder whether, before this story is complete, the ratepayers in Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy districts of the county council are again to be taxed in order to provide water for two other districts in the county which, as I have already said, did little or nothing to provide a water supply for themselves? Before this Measure reaches the Statute Book we certainly require some assurance that additional burdens are not to be placed upon the ratepayers who in the past have made great sacrifices in order to provide an adequate water supply.
Yet, as has already been pointed out, if the expenditure which, under this Bill, is to fall upon areas that must be provided with a water supply is too great, the county council will have power to give assistance from the county rates to enable that water supply to be provided. This will be a serious matter, unless we can have some assurance that the ratepayers who, in the past, have constructed these great schemes to provide their own ratepayers with water, are not again to be called upon to shoulder financial responsibilities which should not be placed upon them.
I welcome the general principle of this Bill. No matter how ill-placed rural populations may be, a good water supply should be made available. A good water 1423 supply is one of the most vital things that can be provided. When the 1946 Water Bill was before the House I welcomed that Measure as a step in the direction of providing rural areas with a proper water supply. I only wish that these rural areas had woke up long ago in order to provide themselves with the water supplies which they desired and which they ought to have.
These two water schemes, the Glen Devon scheme and the Glen Farg in the Dunfermline district were constructed during the period of the first world war when everything was dear, including money. In the Kirkcaldy district the district committee had to borrow money at 7 per cent. for the construction, or part of the construction, of the Glen Farg water supply. These ratepayers made enormous sacrifices, not only at that particular time when the works were being constructed, but later on when they had heavy water rates to pay. These were burdens placed upon the local authority at that time and they were very onerous indeed. I can remember taking up with Sir John Gilmour, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the question of some relief to the ratepayers in the Kirkcaldy district. The Fife County Council had made application to the Secretary of State for a reduction in the amount of interest that was being paid on the money that had to be borrowed for the construction of that scheme. I took it up with the right hon. Gentleman but what did we find? We found that while the Fife County Council were, at that time, prepared to pay a lump sum in order to get rid of some of the burdens of that scheme, they found that the Public Works Loan Board wanted as much advantage from the lump sum payment that the county council would have made as the county council would have paid by paying the 7 per cent., and I think they agreed to go on paying the 7 per cent. on the money borrowed for that scheme.
At the same time, we welcome this Measure for the additional opportunities it will give to the local authorities not only to provide a water supply. The hon. and gallant Member for Forfar (Major Ramsay) can take it quite definitely that sewerage is included in this matter just as much as water. As a matter of fact in our county before any financial advantage was offered, even before the £6 million 1424 was offered, the county of Fife undertook two big schemes to provide water to East Fife, to the areas to which I have already referred, and not only to provide a water scheme but sewerage as well. Both of those schemes were entitled to rank for grant under that £6 million, and I am certain that the additional money that this Bill provides will enable that authority, at any rate, to complete two very important schemes—one with a view to purifying a river which is little more than a sewer at the moment. They will be able to do a great deal with regard to purifying that river as well as providing the East of Fife with a very good supply of water.
We shall have time during the Committee stage to examine this Bill more closely. I am a representative of one large burgh and three small ones and all of them are interested in this particular Measure. My business will be to see that they are not called upon to bear burdens in order to provide other people with water who should have been doing a great deal in the days that are past to provide themselves with water. I very much regret the change that was made in our local government in 1929. As I have already said, the district committees of the county councils were the bodies that really did the work. They were the real county authorities. It is true that the county councils held the purse strings and controlled the finances, but the schemes that were initiated for particular districts had to be borne by the ratepayers in those districts and all the county councils did was to supervise generally.
County council meetings sometimes lasted a very short time. Now they last a very long time, because everything has been placed on the shoulders of the county council. The work before was distributed by the system of district committees. County council representatives were able to meet representatives from the parishes, and that was a much more democratic system than the present system in Scotland. These district committees had not only control over water, but over roads and lighting. They were real effective instruments in county administration. I regret that these committees were practically wiped out, because the duties they have to perform today are not duties at all and nobody pays any attention to what the district committees do. When I was a member, and I was a member until the 1425 change was made in the Local Government Act of 1929, I enjoyed the work. It was interesting, because at that time these district committees had control of their own districts and were really effective instruments in county administration.
As far as special water districts are concerned, it is true that we had all these special water, lighting and drainage districts. The district committees had power to establish these, and they have been continued until now. Under this Bill these special water districts are to be abolished. I am not as enthusiastic about this Measure as some of my hon. Friends. Until we get a good deal more information as to how the financial burden and this rating system are going to work out some of us will not be very easy in our minds. But we welcome the Bill on general principles. We will examine it very closely during the Committee stage to see if it is possible to make improvements and to safeguard the interests of ratepayers who, in the past have made great sacrifices, not only with regard to water, but in every other direction. As I have already said the burgh councils were the real live instruments for achieving progress. For my part, I say that these burgh councils which have made sacrifices in the past should not be asked to make additional sacrifices—not even in the sacred name of uniformity.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
I have no intention of reiterating the arguments in favour of providing a better water supply in the rural areas of Scotland. That case has been made out long ago, and everybody on both sides of the House very naturally welcomes this Bill most warmly. I want rather to direct attention to one or two points of principle which I think are worth looking into.
Under Clause 1, as the Secretary of State said, the public water rate is to be charged on the gross value of all properties. Now, reading between the lines of the Bryce Walker Report, in paragraph 16 the Committee were clearly impressed by the argument in favour of making a fundamental change in the rating system of Scotland, and they would have liked to put the entire burden of the water rate on the occupier. Faced with the alternative of swallowing a camel or a gnat, they appear 1426 to have chosen the gnat and decided that the burden ought to be divided; but they have quite rightly recommended that the main part of the burden should fall on the occupier; their recommendation was that 25 per cent. should fall on the owner.
That recommendation has not been followed, for the perfectly good reason which the Secretary of State gave, that it was desirable to have some degree of flexibility; and that is why we have the figures in the Bill, which will place the burden on the occupier to the extent of not less than two-thirds or more than four-fifths of the total. That is a move in the right direction, but I rather wish the Bryce Walker Committee had gone the whole hog and taken a decisive step in this matter, which might have led to the long overdue reform of the rating system in Scotland.
Why has the right hon. Gentleman not accepted the other recommendation of the Bryce Walker Committee, that the public water rate should have a minimum of 2d. and a maximum of 6d.? I should like the Joint Under-Secretary, in replying, to tell us the reasons for not putting on a limit. Possibly they do not know what the figure will work out at, and obviously there will be very wide variations in the rates that will fall in different areas. However, I think there are good grounds for putting a definite limit on the public water rate, certainly in the Highlands and Islands. For one thing, if it approaches anything like 1s in the £ gross rateable value it will cause acute financial embarrassment to the great majority of the crofting or smallholding estates in the Highlands and Islands. The rents for these smallholdings are mostly extremely small, running from £3 10s. to £5 a year, and the returns to the landlords are so microscopic that I am quite certain that if the public water rate comes out at anything like 1s. in the £ many of these estates will become insolvent—a result which I think nobody would desire to see. Therefore, I hope that some consideration will be given to this aspect of the question. It might be advisable simply for these smallholding areas to have some sort of limit.
What is the justification for levying a public water rate on subjects which are neither in receipt of a water supply at the present time nor likely to be in 1427 receipt of one within any reasonable foreseeable period of time? I think that is quite an unjust proposal; and to my mind it is rendered doubly unjust by the high maximum proportion of 33⅓ per cent. of the total rate which is to be placed upon the public water rate. There are a great many places, such as farms in remote, upland areas of the Highlands, and small islands, which, as far as I can see, will never get the benefit of this Bill. I only wish they were to benefit. The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) referred to people drawing their water from wells. It so happens that at the present day my own family draws water from the same well my ancestors have drawn water from since the 15th century. It is quite a good well; I do not think getting our water there has done any harm—although it is very difficult to get anything to put into the water these days, partly because it is scarce, and also because it is so dear. I know, therefore, as possibly no other hon. Member of this House does, the extreme disadvantage to people in rural areas of having to carry their water considerable distances from wells. There is not the slightest doubt that a whole lot of these places will never get the benefit of this Bill at all.
I am rather inclined to agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) when he says that this flat-iron procedure was evolved largely because of a desire for administrative convenience. I cannot for the life of me see that any county authority would have the slightest difficulty in compiling, in a matter of hours, a list of all the places into which they know very well they will never be able to put water under this Bill. They ought to be excluded altogether; or, failing that, there ought to be a definite statutory obligation on local authorities to see that these outlying places get a water supply, then I would not have the slightest objection to their paying the public water rate, or the domestic water rate, or both—and nor would the people who live in these places.
I am quite familiar with the arguments in paragraph 13 of the Bryce Walker Report as to why this public water rate should be borne by everyone. Obviously, these places can never get the benefit of 1428 the services provided for fire fighting, sewer flushing and street cleansing, and it comes down to an argument that this public water rate is a health insurance premium. I simply cannot accept that argument. What health insurance is there for the family on the upland farm who will continue to have to draw their water, possibly from a shallow or surface well, with the possibility of infection with typhoid or hydatid disease? If there is to be any insurance in these matters, then these people are just as much entitled to protection from disease on public health grounds as anybody else in the country. Charge a public water rate by all means, but do make sure that these people get the benefit.
Clause 2 (5) seems to me to drive a coach and horses right through the main principle of the Bill, because that Subsection of the Clause provides that the provisions of Clause 2shall not apply to lands and heritages being a holding within the meaning of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Acts.I really would like to know what possible argument can be deduced in favour of relieving the occupants of smallholdings from paying a domestic water rate. If that is done in the Highlands and Islands, it will throw a very onerous and absolutely unreasonable burden on the rest of the community in these places. The local authorities are fully alive to this and what it will mean is that the crofters and smallholders, who are by no means the worst off section of the community, will be paying no domestic water rate, while their relatives who may be living in cottages and engaged in some other kind of work, such as old ladies living in cottages and trying to eke out a livelihood by knitting, will have to pay the domestic water rate, and, with it, will have to bear a share of the whole burden which the smallholders themselves ought to be sharing in the interests of common justice.
The right hon. Gentleman is certain to have representations from the local authorities on this subject, which would seem a rather delicate one for me to touch upon. I have no desire whatever to add anything to the burden which the smallholder has to bear, because he has a hard life and I have every sympathy with him. There is nobody in the rural areas who is more anxious to get a piped water supply than the occupants of these smallholdings. 1429 My correspondence for years back testifies to that. They welcome it, and what is more, I am prepared to say that they are perfectly willing to pay their fair share of the burden. I happen to have turned up a letter which I received from a smallholder in Shetland last year. He had written to me to ask what were the prospects of this water scheme coming into being, and this is what he says about his smallholder neighbours:We are wondering what the prospects are now of getting the water scheme started. It is only right that they should know the position as some of them are going to try to get the water in themselves if the scheme is dropped.That is direct evidence that the smallholders are willing to bear a fair share of the burden of the water supply, such as would be entailed by paying the domestic water rate. I should be very sorry indeed to see any additional burdens placed upon the cottars and people living in small houses in these areas, who have already got a grievance against the smallholding community because of the great difference of the rate burden paid by these two sections. If this is done, it will add fuel to the fire, and I hope, therefore, that this point will be looked into very carefully before we finish with this Bill.
Otherwise, I most warmly welcome the Bill, and I am only sorry that I happen to be a dweller on one of these very remote places—a small island, which has no prospects, as far as I can see, of getting any piped water supply. Nevertheless, nothing would please me more than to see my smallholder neighbours and the farmers in Orkney, and all rural dwellers in Scotland, getting the enormous benefit of a piped water supply. I hope that an effort will be made to speed up these schemes and get them into operation as quickly as possible.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubbard (Kirkcaldy)
One need not be surprised at the general welcome which this Bill has received today. Nevertheless, there have been certain reservations, particularly from the other side of the House, which I find it very difficult to believe, particularly those in regard to the payment of the charge for the water which is to be met from the general rates to the extent of 33⅓ per cent. It has been suggested that, because there are many areas not likely to benefit from the fund made available for 1430 the development of water supplies, it is reasonable that they should not be expected to meet this charge. I find that very difficult to follow, because there are a great many people who pay the general rate and who themselves never expect to get certain benefits at all.
For instance, persons who have no children, or persons who have never been married and therefore do not expect to have children, still have to pay the education rate, and I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite would not suggest that, because such people have no children, they ought not to contribute to the general education of children in this country. It is also true that there are people who are blind, as has already been mentioned by the Secretary of State, and people who are invalids or infirm, who still have to pay for street lighting, though they are unable to use the streets at night. There are many people who do not enjoy many of the amenities for which they are rated, but nobody would suggest that, because there is a section of the community which is not going to enjoy the benefits of this Bill, and for whom there is no prospect of their ever being likely to enjoy them, they should be exempt from paying these particular charges.
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
In that case, would the hon. Gentleman support a Measure placing a statutory obligation upon the local authority to carry water into these places?
§ Mr. Hubbard
Yes. I am all for that, but I think the boot is on the other foot. That is the purpose of the Bill, and I think we ought to call attention to it. I do not represent a rural area, but I am perfectly satisfied that not one of my constituents will oppose the increased payment. They will not directly benefit from it, because they do not reside in rural areas, but the whole purpose of the Bill is the provision of water in those areas in which it has not been found practicable in the past, because of high costs, to have a piped water supply.
We all give this Bill a general welcome, with reservations. Although many of us live in the more populated areas, which have proper water supplies, we are particularly anxious that an opportunity should be given to our fellows to enjoy the things which we have enjoyed for so long. Indeed, I think that all the 1431 Measures passed by the present Government concerning housing in the rural areas have made provision for a considerable subsidy for houses built in the remote districts, and to the cost of which everyone makes a contribution and to which contribution nobody could reasonably object. If it is a question of people who are not going to enjoy these advantages objecting to certain terms, then I suggest that the boot is on the other foot.
I am disappointed that this Bill does not fulfill the condition that the very maximum of the rural areas of Scotland, no matter how remote, should be provided with a water supply. If it is a question of people in rural areas providing water supplies at their own expense, that is another matter, but our experience is that, in a great many villages in the rural areas of Scotland, we find pumps at one end of the street. If, however, there is a distillery in the district, then pipes are supplied to the distillery, so that pure water goes into the distillery and passes through the neck of a bottle, where it gains a new value and becomes almost holy water. In some of the places where it then goes, it is diluted to such an extent that it becomes almost pure water again. If, indeed, water has been piped into these areas at the expense of those who have so enhanced the value of water—and, indeed, in Scotland, we are jealous of our Scotch whisky industry—those who have benefited by it ought not to object. There could be no better sacrifice than by putting piped water into a distillery or brewery.
I have read in the Press that, even in these remote areas, the beer used to flow like water. I think it yet trickles like water in some areas. Therefore, nothing but good can come from this Bill. People ought not to measure progress by what they, personally, get out of it. I am sure that all hon. Members wish that these benefits should be shared by Scotland as a whole.
I know that, so far as increased rates are concerned, there are difficulties ahead. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) am rather anxious about compensation. I think that a very rigid investigation should be made into what compensation people are entitled to receive. They should be asked, if they own anything, 1432 how they came to own it, and whether it cost anything to acquire. If it did not, then I do not see how they can have a reasonable claim for compensation. If, in the past, they grabbed it, then it should be grabbed back, and they should not be entitled to compensation. I am also worried about compensation in another form. Being a member of a local authority, I know the difficulties. I should like to pay a tribute to our forefathers; they had great foresight. It is the duty of a council man to visit catchment areas in order to ensure that there is the necessary water. I repeat, I think our forefathers showed great foresight when they planned these catchment areas. Most authorities run up against difficulties in their anxiety to provide an adequate water supply.
On the question of compensation water, I am a little worried as to whether the provisions are sufficient. I know that some adjustments have been made since the 1946 Act, but I am rather concerned about the case where a local authority has to provide an amount of compensation water merely because it is so laid down, and because, perhaps, it was necessary some years ago. Therefore, I want to be sure that a local authority charged with the supply of a sufficiency of wholesome water will not be embarrassed by having to continue to provide compensation water which, when supplied, only finds its way down to the sea.
We are making rapid developments in Scotland in industrial matters, housing, hydroelectric schemes, and regional gas and electricity schemes. When I was on the town council I got very worried when I saw a tremendous expenditure on the digging of drains, the laying of pipes and the sealing up of roads, and when another department then came along and broke open those roads. I know it will be a tremendous expense to lay pipelines into these remote areas. I am wondering whether we could look at these things from a common-sense point of view, and whether, where electricity or gas, or some other service, has to be carried over an equally long distance, there could not be some co-operation so that the water pipes are laid at the same time, thus reducing the costs. Could not local authorities who are carrying out this Bill make contact with other departments and ascertain whether they intend to carry utility 1433 services over the same area, so that they might work co-jointly and thus reduce the costs? Without reservation I welcome this Bill. I am convinced that it is only another step forward in an endeavour to provide for our country cousins those things which, in the past, we thought ought only to be reserved for ourselves.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
As the representative of a large rural constituency which has a far greater proportion of water than is its due, particularly on the West coast—though, as the Secretary of State pointed out, that water is not, unfortunately, regulated or supplied to the houses of the people—I welcome this Bill, and hope that it will amend the present unfortunate state of affairs. It is interesting to remember that, not so long ago, the £6,375,000 which was made available for grants was considered sufficient, to the extent that, under the previous Act, houses were not allowed to be erected without a water supply. One can only hope that this increase to £20 million will prove adequate. Like the hon. Member for West Perth and Kinross (Mr. Snadden), I doubt whether in view of the rise in costs of labour and material, this will be so. I disagree with the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) who was afraid that we should spend too much money. I would rather see a cut in other expenditure, and this sum increased.
In my constituency, apart from grants already provided, a further £1,000,000 or more is required. If, as the Secretary of State suggested this afternoon, this £20 million is governed by the available labour and material, I shall make no apology for appearing parochial when I ask that special consideration should be given to the Highlands. I have done that before on many occasions in this House, although not so often as I should have liked. The majority of my constituents would far rather have water in their houses than electricity. At present in many areas water has very often to be carried a mile and more. One must remember that not only has it to be carried into the house, but it also has to be thrown out again.
The development of the tourist industry can be regarded as one of the greatest potential sources of wealth in the 1434 Highlands today. But one must take into account the damage already being done by the cut in petrol and the Wages Catering Act, which, incidentally, means that more people are finding it difficult to pay the hotel charges and want to go into the smaller houses. I believe that the tourist industry is being stultified by the lack of adequate water supplies in the crofting communities. Many people have told me that, even should they have a room to spare, they are unable to take in visitors because of the lack of a water supply. We know that every encouragement must be given to summer visitors of moderate means. I am sure many smallholders would help to augment the milk supplies if they had a supply of water to wash up the dairy utensils. One could give other examples of how water is required to develop our basic industries to the nation's advantage.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) that insufficient enemy was being devoted to this problem of supplying water, and I should like to see a speeding up of efforts in this direction. [An HON. MEMBER: "That was also true before the war."] I know it was. Today the use of water as a beverage in one form or another is becoming more and more necessary owing to the penal taxation imposed on the wine of the country.
I should also like to raise a point which I know is causing the local authorities in the north a certain amount of worry; this is covered by Clause 2 (5). It is felt that careful consideration must be given to the question of the fair and equitable incidence of the rates of those who will benefit, and that there should be no just ground for complaint that some ratepayers are bearing a heavier burden than they should. The Secretary of State said that justice in these matters was difficult, but I hope that the Government will look into this matter further before the Committee stage. It is also felt that it is most impracticable to ask the local authorities to negotiate with individual smallholders. In my constituency there are some 6,000 of them.
I hope that water will be supplied without undue delay to the homes of our people. In the Highlands the lack of this primary amenity is the cause of depopulation, and I hope that none of us will rest until there is water in every home in the land.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
This subject apparently does not create much enthusiasm in the House, and yet it is very important for the people of Scotland. At the outset, we should congratulate the Exchequer. I gather that some two years ago the Exchequer agreed to make a grant to Scotland of something over £6 million, and this Bill now provides that the amount shall be in the region of £20 million. That is about the first concession that I can remember coming to Scotland, as opposed to England, for very many years. It may be felt in the House that a person coming from an industrial centre like Glasgow should have little to say on a matter of this kind. I bow to the pressure of Members from rural areas in their desire to improve this Bill, but I think people in a city like Glasgow have equal responsibilities.
The Bill has two main purposes. First, it is hoped to regulate the rate charge in a more beneficial way than formerly, and secondly, the grant is largely for the purpose of improving not only rural water supplies but the sewerage systems of the country as a whole. Who will deny the fact that even in and around the City of Glasgow there are many burghs and some counties which could usefully spend money on improving their sewerage schemes and by so doing improving the conditions of the river that runs through the City of Glasgow, the river Clyde?
The only disturbing feature of the Debate has been the fear about the charge. I know of no commodity or service so cheap to any community as the water supply. It is true that there is an anomaly in that those who live nearest the natural supply, the people in the rural areas, are usually denied an adequate supply compared with the people in the big towns. In other words, the town from which I come is well supplied. We probably exaggerate and say that we have the finest water supply in the country. I should not go that length, but I think we have at least one of the finest water supplies in the country. I have no doubt that many of the people living near the natural fall are seriously handicapped, and that a very good case can be made out for improving the supply of water in rural areas.
1436 I support the claims of Members on both sides of the House who want responsibility to be placed on the authorities which levy charges to provide an adequate water supply to people in remote places. The principal matter I want to raise is that of compensation. It may be that because I have only the mind of a layman I am unable to appreciate the contents of Clause 26. However, I am taking the precaution of not opposing the Government on that point. Instead, I want to ask one or two questions so that I may be guided in the Committee stage. A number of Subsections in Clause 26 need clarification. A local authority has the right to make an agreement with people having a vested interest, and can exercise its authority ultimately to end any agreement with such people. I want to know who are the people who have a vested interest in the supply of water. I can think of certain people who may have such an interest. I gather that the natural fall of water on to certain ground permits the landlord of that ground to make a charge on the authorities who are supplied finally with that water, and in order to discontinue that arrangement that landlord can be compensated. The final authority rests with the Secretary of State for Scotland, and under the Land Clauses Acts, as indicated in Clause 26 (2), the assessment is arrived at.
I want to know what such a landlord did to add to the value of the water which, in the natural process, falls on land of which he may be in possession. In some cases we have grave doubts whether the landlords are entitled to own the land, let alone the water which falls on it. We on this side of the House have often spoken of land, but in recent nationalising Measures we have accepted the principle of compensation, and I make no quarrel with it. I think that in the ordinary evolution of society, unless there is some catastrophic change, it is impossible to avoid a form of compensation to people possessing property which may be required by the community, but when it comes to water we are entitled to ask how the supply of water is to be valued and how the responsibility of assessment is to be measured. I would like some information from the Secretary of State on those questions.
Subsection (4) makes the position extremely difficult. Perhaps I may have the 1437 permission of the House to read this Subsection:This section applies to any obligation to give to any person other than a local authority or a local water authority a supply of water (whether for domestic purposes or for purposes other than domestic purposes and whether in bulk or otherwise) free of charge or on terms more favourable to the person having the vested interest in the obligation …In other words, someone has a vested interest in the obligation, and we have to supply water to that person free of charge. There may be a reasonable answer to this, but I object to people being compensated for water, and I want to be quite clear how the compensation is to be measured, what may be the financial obligations of a local authority? If I can get some assurances on these points I shall be able, in Committee, to avoid unnecessary Amendments.
I do not believe that anyone can oppose a Bill of this kind; anything that can be done to improve the general water supply of the people of Scotland, especially those in rural areas, must welcome a Measure of this kind. I hope, however, that the £20 million is not merely a paper figure, but will be spent in the not too dim and distant future. I believe that the money can be spent more usefully than that which was spent on clearing away bings by hand labour, instead of machinery. I hope the money will be spent at a reasonably early date on the improvement of water supplies so that we can, at the same time, find useful employment for those who might otherwise be unemployed.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
There are three essentials for a satisfactory water supply—first, that the water should be good; second, that it should be ample in all seasons; third, that it should be cheap. Cheapness is probably just as important as either of the other essentials. I notice that the Bill deals almost entirely with the third factor, and I presume that the Secretary of State and his advisers will assure themselves that the schemes which require approval will be satisfactory. From what I have heard today I believe the right hon. Gentleman will see that where water is supplied the supply will be ample. Although we in Scotland are familiar with floods at frequent intervals, we also have droughts.
As I have said, cheapness is dealt with almost entirely in the Bill. We must all 1438 be aware that the expenses of a water scheme are infinitely greater today than pre-war. The Minister has shown great shrewdness in dealing with this matter. There were only two methods by which he could secure cheapness, one being by way of a satisfactory Exchequer grant and the other by spreading the burden. The present grant of £20 million is very much better than the previous £6 million.
From my reading of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman is spreading the burden of the cost of providing water supplies as widely as he dare. During the Debate various reasons have been put forward as to how the farmer who lives at a distant place would get no water supply himself, but would pay the public rate for a supply to other people. We have been told of the various advantages he will get, but I think it would have been more honest if we had admitted, straight away, that the reason why he was to be rated was because it was essential to spread the burden as widely as possible, and that it was not because he would benefit by the better health of someone else in a town. It is a pity that time has been wasted in suggesting that there were any other reasons why that farmer should have to pay the water rate.
Generally speaking, it is accepted that water should be treated as a commodity and paid for by those who use it. But there are certain exceptions. To secure cheapness, a certain proportion of the cost has to be carried by the community at large. First, there is the Exchequer grant and, second, there is the public rate. Over and above that certain privileged people will be empowered to transfer the cost of the water which they use to others who are supposed to be in a better position to bear the burden. We are all in favour of securing a cheap water supply for those to whom it can be supplied, but let us recognise the fact that quite probably people and communities will be called upon to pay a very considerable sum for the supply of water which can be of no personal benefit to themselves as individuals or as communities. We shall have something to say about this when we come to the Committee stage.
It would be interesting to know to what extent the costs of water schemes have increased during the last 10 years. I do not think it would be unreasonable to say that they have increased by 1439 approximately the same proportion as in the case of housebuilding. If the Under-Secretary can let us have information on this point I am sure we should all like to hear it, as it would be of assistance to us when considering schemes in our own neighbourhoods.
There is another matter which undoubtedly should assist towards cheapness, and that is that during the last year or two some very large areas have combined to produce a co-operative water scheme. I hope that that will tend towards reducing the actual cost of the water to the individual. If that is the case, then I think we are justified, in a very large measure, in accepting many of the Bill's proposals to which we might otherwise have had to object.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord William Scott) tell us that there are three necessities for a good water supply, three conditions that govern a good supply—that it should be ample, that it should be cheap, and that the water should be good. I am perfectly certain that no one in any part of the House will disagree that those are three conditions for a good water supply. It occurred to me, however, that there is a fourth essential condition which, for some strange reason—or so it seemed to me, at any rate—he omitted altogether, although in many ways the fourth condition is the most important—that the water supply should be absolutely clear in every sense whatsoever of private control. It ought to be publicly controlled in the fullest sense of the term.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should have omitted that essential condition for the creation of a good water supply. I think that if our air supply had been governed in the way that our water supplies have been governed in days gone by the community would not have tolerated that condition of affairs for a single second, for the simple reason that while we can go without water for three days, we can go without air only three minutes. Of course, a camel can can go without water for, I believe, a week: but nobody wants to be a camel.
I am intrigued by the second purpose of this Bill—to provide grants in aid of rural water supplies in Scotland under the 1440 Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944. I am very interested in that, because some years ago I happened to be staying in a part of Scotland where my first job every morning was to get two pails and go at least 100 yards to a spring to fill them as full as possible, to make sure I did not need to make a second journey during the day. When dirty weather came that spring became so foul it was impossible to use the water. Then I had to walk half a mile elsewhere for water with my two pails and bring them back full. That was not nearly so much a job as an art—to walk half a mile with two pails full of water and arrive home with the pails still full of water. That was only during a holiday. When I realise that that sort of thing is the lot of, perhaps, thousands of people in our country still, then I feel that any opposition to this Bill ought to be washed out of court altogether. [HON. MEMBERS: "If we have the water."] The water at the spring was not water in which anybody would have liked to wash, let alone drink. The Bill will be welcome if it puts an end to such a state of affairs as that, which still exists in many parts of Scotland.
There is another aspect of the Bill to which I want to turn—only very briefly, because, I believe, this will be explored more intimately in Committee. The main object to the Bill is to provide a uniform system of rating and charging for water in Scotland. That seems quite a reasonable course to pursue—to try to get a uniform rate. However, we have to realise that such a course, however estimable, may create anomalies to which we have to pay attention.
I think particularly of the City of Glasgow, in which, naturally, I am concerned, and which is the supplying authority for a good part of the surrounding areas. No longer will it have the power to levy rates. Now it will collect the gross sum for its water services; but that gross sum must be proportional to the valuation of the City of Glasgow and the area which it supplies. If we could say that the rate which is to be charged would produce the same return in the surrounding areas as it does in the City of Glasgow, then there could be, no possible objection. However, the valuations in Glasgow and in the areas which it supplies are not necessarily the 1441 same. In fact, they may vary by as much as 25 per cent., with the result that the total sum that comes into Glasgow from the surrounding areas is much less than that which is collected from the same rate within a comparable part of the city. Yet, the outside parts are getting the same services as those in the city, and those services, because the populations round about are more scattered, are a much more costly business than those in the city.
That is a point which I feel will require to be looked into. Under Clause 11, while my right hon. Friend has power to reduce the charges imposed by a supplying authority he has not power to increase the charges, and I feel that that is a power which he ought to acquire before the Bill becomes an Act. I suggest to him that in order to meet this point he should add a Clause, or otherwise make provision, to ensure that a local authority may ask him, if he is satisfied with the justice of its case, to impose a rate weighted up to the extent of 25 per cent., on the area to which that authority is supplying the water. I make that suggestion for his consideration in view of the fact that in the Bill as it stands he has only power to reduce charges. I think that he ought to reserve to himself the power, when he is thoroughly satisfied of the need and rightness of a claim, to increase charges if necessary. In spite of these little anomalies, and in view of the tremendous effect which this Bill is bound to have on the population of Scotland, I, like other Members in this House, welcome its presentation today.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Duthie (Banff)
I do not intend to touch on rating or acquisition or any of the other points already raised. I should like to draw the attention of the Secretary of State and Members of the House to one other point with regard to the proposals in the Bill. The Secretary of State for Scotland, in his opening speech, mentioned that he had a leaning towards central schemes. The sum of £20 million, which is being provided under the Bill, is obviously quite insufficient to take care of the schemes already put forward, and which have in great measure been approved. These schemes, at the best, can only be long-term schemes. The benefits can only accrue after a passage of time—in some cases, 1442 as the right hon. Gentleman admitted, in 15 years—but the problem is a very urgent one. In Banffshire and neighbouring counties, there has been considerable discussion in connection with the Cabbrach and Avon schemes. Neighbouring county councils have not seen eye to eye in these schemes, and consequently there has been delay in getting anything done.
The position in Banffshire and in northern rural Scotland is that the water position is extremely difficult, and a condition of great urgency has arisen. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the purely local schemes that have been put forward and which are eminently practicable being put into effect at once. Banffshire, like all the northern counties, is very rich in water. Some of our villages and areas which are in direst need have magnificent water supplies quite near. There are small schemes which would cost £2,000 or £3,000 to bigger schemes which might cost £20,000. In all, I understand that the county could be adequately taken care of for the period of the next 30 years, with considerable housing development, for an outlay of £150,000 or thereabout. The major scheme mooted will cost about £3 million. Let the major scheme form part and parcel of the long-term policy, but for our present and urgent needs let us have these small schemes put into effect.
The absence of water is causing the gravest hindrance to employment. Some of the small burghs and individual towns on the Banffshire coast have only one industry—and that is fishing. If anything happens to the fishing, we have nothing to fall back on. We are endeavouring to build up other industries. For instance, in the town of Banff we want to start a laundry, but there is not enough water for domestic purposes, as the right hon. Gentleman knows because representatives of his Department went there to report. That is the type of scheme which requires urgent attention and which should be the first to benefit under this Bill.
I heartily welcome the Bill, although there are many points to be taken up in Committee and many defects to be ironed out. I look upon it as bringing speedy aid to our northern counties. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. MacLeod) mentioned the tourist trade. We could do a great deal more for our 1443 northern counties to attract tourists if we had better water supplies. I hope they will be forthcoming. For the reason that I see in this Bill the promise of speedy assistance for our very needy northern territories, I most heartily welcome it.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
Unlike all the previous speakers, I am not going to say that I welcome the Bill. I want to criticise it. There is only one good and really worthwhile point in the whole Bill, and that is that it makes a grant of £20 million. I have no doubt that everyone in Scotland will welcome that grant as manna from Heaven, although they may not be too enthusiastic about the Bill, because obviously, if we are to have a uniform system of rating, then someone on a low rate at the moment is going to be put on a higher rate, and is not going to welcome the Bill.
One thing which has always struck me when we have been dealing with water supplies, either in England or Scotland, is the parochial outlook we always bring to bear in the search for it. Every little town in every little district sets about looking for a catchment area where it can buy from the local landlord the rights of the water supply immediately adjacent to its own particular area. If some statesman in this country at some period was big enough to survey the whole of this little island, he would be able to see in the Western Highlands, from Glasgow to Oban, a water supply due to rainfall which would supply the whole population of this island. All it needs is a little imagination. But we cannot get away from the parish pump outlook. Consequently, we get all these little schemes coming along hotch-potch and higgledy-piggledy.
The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) drew attention to one particular anomaly in that the Glasgow citizen, who enjoys some of the finest water supply in the whole world from Loch Katrine, has to pay a higher water rate for that service than some of the people in adjacent districts who receive the service, and who are not citizens of Glasgow. They belong to foreign towns. I would like also to draw attention to the fact that there is another section of Glasgow citizens who do not get the Loch Katrine water supply 1444 at all. They get water from an old-fashioned scheme started by a private company. Like all other private companies, when they started they had one eye on supplying the water and the other on the income. The result is that even today citizens on the south side of Glasgow get a very poor water supply. I do not mean that they do not get plenty of water: they get plenty, but it is very poor in quality and it is not absolutely clean.
This in itself demonstrates that what is wanted is one body to deal with the question of water supply either for the whole of the island or for Scotland alone. If I had the power, I would set up a board similar to the Electricity Board or the Gas Board. I would give them the job of supplying every town on this island with a clean, pure water supply. I would give them the job of cleaning our dirty rivers, which are a disgrace. When the Government begin to think on those lines, I will welcome a Measure of that nature. At the moment, I can only welcome the £20 million.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
Like most other hon. Members, with the exception of the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan), I welcome the greater part of this Bill, and, like him, I also welcome the £20 million. There are one or two points upon which I should like further information from the Joint Under-Secretary of State. In his opening speech, the Secretary of State said that he had been in full consultation with the local authorities in drawing up this Measure. I have had representations made to me which do not appear to bear out that statement. I received a telegram this afternoon in which exception is taken to Clause 2 (5) of which we have heard a good deal already. I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to clarify the position. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are puzzled.
I agree that in these days the rating burden must be spread over the whole country. Many of my hon. Friends have said that there are large numbers of people in the Highlands and Islands who will never see a public water supply in the next 100 years. There is not the slightest doubt about that but, on the other hand, as the rating burden is spread over the whole of the public, then if a 1445 local authority considers that a public water rate should be levied on all occupiers of houses, the smallholders and crofters will have the rate levied on them. Yet, under Clause 2 (5) smallholders and crofters are to be exempt from this domestic water rate—or so it would appear. That is a point upon which I should like further explanation.
When the Bryce Walker Committee discussed the question of smallholders and crofters they considered whether it was fair to make a certain minimum fixed charge against these people or to include them and rate them on the gross valuation of their houses, not on the croft or holding. The croft or holding is subject to agricultural derating and would not give a fair standard. I think that the Secretary of State has received—if not, he is about to receive it—a memorandum on this point from the Association of County Councils. They feel that it would be fair where a public water supply is supplied to a crofter or smallholder that he should pay the domestic rate. The Secretary of State quoted a case of the old lady who said that although she could have water brought into her house she would much rather pay her 6d. a week for two pails of water instead of paying a 6s. rate for the privilege of having water piped into the house. That is the position today. There are a number of people who are not clear where they stand in these matters. They feel that they are now being subjected to a public water rate and that there is some catch about it.
The local authority may feel that it would be much fairer to everybody concerned that where a domestic supply is provided in a house the occupier should be rated for that water. One hon. Member talked about a shilling rate. Various sums have been quoted. Surely, the rate would be much more in the neighbourhood of 3d. or 4d. or even as low as 2d. I am certain that there is not a crofter, and particularly a crofter's wife, who would not pay 4d. a week willingly in order to be able to turn on a tap and have water supplied in the house, instead of having to take a pail and fetch the water as the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) said that he had to do. Clause 2 (5) is perplexing local authorities. I would emphasise that these representations are being made by the Association of County Councils as a 1446 whole. This is their opinion; it is not merely the opinion of the crofting counties. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will give us some enlightenment.
It may be said that the financial position of the crofters is such that they could not afford to pay for a public water supply. There is already in existence machinery for the crofters to appeal against the rating burden on the grounds of financial incapacity. Already in many areas crofters as well as others have to pay the special water rate of the district. It is true that special water areas are to be discontinued, but the public water supply to these crofters and smallholders will continue. Again, the local authorities consider that the fairest system would be to bring them within the provisions of this Bill.
As has been said there are thousands of crofters and smallholders who will not see a public water supply for a very long time. There are quite a number who receive a private water supply. By that I mean that the water is provided by private enterprise—that system which seems to be anathema to hon. Members opposite. There are many estates in the Highlands, particularly in my own county, where an ample, good, healthy water supply is provided by a landlord to his smallholders, crofters and cottagers. That is done up many a glen and in many a difficult remote area where no local authority water supply will be provided for many a long year. It does not do anyone much good to deride the action of private owners who provide water in places like that.
I wish to refer to one matter in connection with water schemes which are before the Secretary of State for approval or are being carried out now. Many local authorities are experiencing difficulty in providing accommodation for the engineers who are to carry out these schemes. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will know of one local authority to which this applies. Perhaps he may be able to urge on the appropriate Department the necessity of doing what they can to assist local authorities in providing housing accommodation of one sort or another to enable the engineers to get on with the work—in this respect I am referring to the Outer and Inner Hebrides. There are bound to be other points that will come up during 1447 the Committee stage on which we shall want to say something, but in conclusion may I say that, like most other Members who have spoken, I welcome the Bill.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Most hon. Members are agreed that it is desirable to go into this question of trying to provide a uniform system. of rating for water. I think that the method which has been adopted by the Secretary of State will meet with some criticism during the Committee stage, particularly in regard to the provision whereby occupiers are rated irrespective of whether or not they receive any water supply. My right hon. Friend is in every way justified in making this change. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) said, the question of providing a clean water supply has been one of our basic problems which has debarred progress from the point of view of housing and health in our rural areas. The farmer up in the glen, to whom the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) referred, might be seriously affected by trouble elsewhere, because there are no barriers to epidemics. As the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) well knows, a bad water supply is one of the worst things for spreading epidemics.
§ Mr. Ross
I am amazed at the superficiality of that reply. We have had typhoid epidemics in Scotland within recent memory, and it is not water running up hills that has spread the disease.
There has been more or less unanimous approval of the fact that the Secretary of State has managed to prise out of the hard-hearted custodians of the Treasury an extra £14 million. The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) was not so sure about this. He was inclined to look this gift horse in the mouth. To use his own colourful language, he thought that it would cause a vicious circle which would swamp the country financially. Government expenditure should be considered in 1448 relation to its purpose, and there is no Scotsman who will deny the great need for expenditure of this kind. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh were quite justified in maintaining that we should not allow to pass unnoticed my right hon. Friend's reference to the fact that it may take 15 to 20 years before we get any return for this £20 million. We want something done for Scotland now, not in 15 years' time.
§ Mr. Woodburn
This work takes a long time. The work is going on now, but it takes many years to build up these large waterworks. It will take about 15 years to do it, unless there is unemployment throughout the country—which we hope will not be the case—setting labour and materials free for the work.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not think we have much to pride ourselves on if we take 15 or 20 years to spend this £20 million. I do not want to see this limit put on one of our great basic programmes. If we are to get on with housing schemes in the rural areas, we have to spend this money much quicker. It is really a matter of priority. I do not think we should be wasting labour if we were to speed up these schemes.
My only other point is this question of compensation. I like this idea of getting an extra £14 million from the Treasury, but I do not like the taxpayer of Scotland having to dip deeper into his pocket to pay out compensation for an effete privilege. If it has been decided to end this era of privilege, surely we should not have to buy these people out, when in all probability for the past hundred years they have been confiscating money from the taxpayers. While we have spent a whole day talking about water supplies for Scotland, the fact remains that it will take many hours to debate this subject during the Committee stage, when many more important points will have to be raised. As Scotsmen, we are inclined to talk about everything being all right in Scotland, but there is still a lot to be done, and from the point of view of this chance to do something more for Scotland I welcome this Bill.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)
I rise to ask the Secretary of State to allow adequate time to elapse 1449 between the Second Reading of this Bill and the Committee stage. I ask the question because, when I approached my local authority before coming to this Debate, I found that they had received a copy of this Bill only on Saturday and were therefore unable to give me very much information as to their views. I do not know whether that is the experience of other members. The Secretary of State has said that this is a local authority Measure, and it is from the local authorities that the various Committee points will arise. I should like an assurance that there will be due time for reflection by local authorities of all kinds before we take the Committee stage.
The other point is whether the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up the Debate can give us a target figure for what the rates are likely to be after the £20 million has been expended. Could he not give a target figure, say, for Aberdeenshire or for Glasgow? It would clear our minds a great deal when we are thinking over the point of how the percentages of public water charges and domestic water charges are to be allocated. I am talking about the rating charge, not the amount of £20 million. If the figure is a small one, then the problem will not be very difficult, but if it is a big one, we shall need to know more about it.
I regret that it did not seem to be made quite clear in the Secretary of State's speech whether the £20 million completely covers all the new schemes or whether it covers only schemes which have been fully approved. I believe there is a backlag of schemes which have not been actually approved but are more or less on paper. Can we have an assurance that the £20 million gives a clear run for the next 10 years for everything which has been undertaken?
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
Following the concluding remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence), I should like to know whether it is the intention under this Measure to ask for schemes to be re-submitted. I gather that something like only one-fifth of those schemes which have been submitted so far qualify for grants under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act. I certainly welcome this Bill, as 1450 one rather welcomes an overdue guest. We were told two years ago that further legislation was contemplated, and I think it is true to say that most local authorities have been rather worried by the time it has taken to obtain approval for the various schemes submitted under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act. I agree that even supposing they had received approval, they might not have been able to get on any more quickly once they had started, but the start was undoubtedly delayed.
In his speech the Secretary of State said priority would be given for schemes where rural housing would otherwise be held up and, of course, that is very necessary, because we find that houses for agricultural workers, which are being erected in blocks of four in different parts of rural constituencies by local authorities, are at present being placed where water supplies exist and not where the real need exists. Had it been possible to supply the water first the needs of the community would have been better met.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) referred to the necessity for interim schemes. In my constituency there is a village which is on the main road where one side of the village has a water supply from a private source and the other side, which used to have a private source and where the source was given up, now does not have a water supply at all. Most of the houses—a line of cottages—are owned by the occupiers. Here an interim supply is clearly needed. I hope it will be pressed forward. I think the Under-Secretary of State knows the village to which I refer.
The Secretary of State went on to say that the first consideration was the grant which is being made in recognition of the inability of local authorities to face the expenditure on the supply of water at present rates. Following that, he said, the second consideration was the re-rating. Clearly re-rating is necessary, at least among other things, if not first, in order to achieve that uniformity which is a previous condition for the combination of local authorities in local water boards. That uniformity is clearly desirable.
It seems to me that there are two principal problems on which, in fact, the right hon. Gentleman touched. First, there are the burghs which for long have had a 1451 supply but where, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the per capita supply now required is something like five times what it used to be, with the consequence that their present supply is inadequate. Side by side with that we have those burghs and adjoining, or nearby, landward areas which have no water at all. Where both these areas need extra supplies it is plainly desirable that they should act together. I hope the right hon. Gentleman at some stage, or possibly the Joint Under-Secretary of State in replying tonight, will give some indication of the policy which is to be followed where we have those two requirements side by side—the burgh which needs an increased supply and the landward area which needs a supply of some kind. Perhaps the Under-Secretary could say how exactly he intends to implement Sections 14, 15 and 16 of The Water (Scotland) Act, 1946. What is quite certain is that no further schemes either on water supply or sewerage will be undertaken unless this matter is made plain.
Following on that, the next question which arises is, what are rural areas? They have never been defined in an Act of Parliament. Would it not be better to put in this Act a definition of rural areas for this purpose? I gather that the custom of the Department of Health has been to treat as rural areas burghs or communities with a population of less than 2,000. Those with a population of over that figure have been treated as not eligible for a grant. Now that a community cannot become a burgh unless it has a population of 7,000, presumably it will be right to treat at any rate the smallest burghs as rural areas and to allow them a share in these grants.
A question referred to several times is that regarding the public water rate. The trouble is, of course, that the more water supplies to outlying areas are developed, the higher the public rate will rise and, in consequence, those who can never in any circumstances get a supply of water at all will be paying more and more for nothing at all, or at any rate for precious little. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said that, in effect, these people have a share in the general public services. That share, of course, is small and against it the rates are clearly going to rise higher and 1452 higher. I hope this Bill will not be regarded as the last word in legislation in this regard. Sooner or later I think the principle of the overall sharing of the public water supply will have to be examined.
The question of the supply of water divides itself into two distinct parts—first, the provision of a mains supply and secondly, the distribution of that supply. I hope the Under-Secretary, in replying, either now or in the Committee stage, will have something to say about the means by which the Government intend to make that provision. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in opening the Debate for this side had something to say on that. I hope it will be made quite clear how far local authorities may expect grants both for the provision of a main supply and for the distribution of that supply. These are the only remarks that I have to make except to suggest that possibly that division also can play its part in the future between burghs and land authorities where they are formed into a joint water authority.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Gilzean (Edinburgh, Central)
I have listened to by far the greater part of the discussion that has taken place. So far as I understand it—and I want to say I welcome the Bill, for I think it is a good Bill and one calculated to be for Scotland's good—the desire is, in the main, to bring a better water supply to the areas outside the large burghs and cities. The large cities are more or less perfectly happy, or nearly so, where water is concerned. For a long period they have steadily built up a strong water position. I am bound to admit they have the great advantage of the high concentration of population and that makes it comparatively easy, because the main difficulty with regard to landward areas is the fact that there is such a distance between the people requiring a water supply.
At the same time, one can understand that it is very difficult with, say, 50,000 square miles and a population of over five million, with most of them completely concentrated on a middle belt, adequately to supply the outlying areas with water. I take it for granted that the great bulk of the £20 million being given by the State will be used for the 1453 purpose of lending a helping hand, not to urban, but to rural areas.
A vein of discontent has run through the speeches of hon. Members on the other side of the House. They somehow thought that the Government were not doing what they ought to do in this connection. I quite appreciate all the problems, but at the same time we should remember what the cities and burghs, by their own efforts—and sometimes they have been exploited—have managed to do. One of the problems of the city I have the honour to represent is that in the past they had to make very considerable concessions in rural areas in order to get water from the person who owned the watershed, and who would agree to the water authority getting the watershed for water purposes only on condition that all the tenants on his land got it supplied free of charge. That is one of the things for which the compensation sums will have to be used in the future.
I hope those who have spoken so glibly about the inadequacy of the provision will appreciate exactly what is being done for them. Local authorities who have water in abundance have had to pay for it right down through the years, and very often they have done this when they were not really in a position to do it. In the district around Edinburgh there are burghs which are supplied with water by the Edinburgh Water Corporation at practically the same price as the Corporation provides its own water. What I want to emphasise particularly is that we should accept this scheme and make the best of it, understanding and appreciating that to cover a country like Scotland, where there is in many parts a sparse population, with all that is necessary to bring water to the doors of these isolated people, is a very big job indeed. I hope that the Government, in this effort, which will ultimately be further supplemented, will have the support of all in this House, so that the people of Scotland may be better supplied with water than ever before.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Those who have had the privilege of listening to our Debate and those who will read about it tomorrow, will be staggered by the enthusiasm which Scotsmen show for pure, unadulterated water; but to those parts of the country such as I represent, it is a matter of very great importance. It 1454 was interesting to find the attachment to this Bill shown by hon. Members from the Clydeside district. They can boast, as they are entitled to boast, of their Loch Katrine scheme; they could have boasted of the whales that recently arrived up the water at Glasgow; but when the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) went further and began to advocate a national water authority, I began to be a little troubled. He quoted the National Electricity Authority and, I think, the national Gas Board as good ideas to be followed in regard to a national water authority. These things are done step by step, like Hitler's steps; and the hon. Member has only to go a couple of steps further, and he will be advocating a national housing authority, as indeed Members from the other side have done.
§ Mr. Stewart
If these steps are taken by the party opposite, they will rob the local authorities of every function which they have and destroy democracy. That is the scene which has been painted for us this afternoon in the speech of the hon. Member. There are those in Scotland who realise where hon. Members opposite are taking them, and many of us have warned them of this a long time ago.
The need for water in Scotland is understood by everyone. I have been pleading for further efforts in this direction all the 16 years I have been in the House. I want to say, lest anyone is under any misapprehension, that developments in Scottish water schemes have not started with this Government. They have been going on for a long time. They went on at some considerable pace in those years between the wars about which we have heard so many doleful tales from hon. Members opposite. Just before the war broke out, to give the House an example in proof of what I am saying, very considerable work was done in the county of Fife. The original water scheme was the biggest of its kind to be started. That was done under the aegis of the National Government, to which a great many of us gave our support. I congratulate the Government upon having gone a step further tonight, but as long as the people understand that it is a little step forward upon the 1455 march begun a long time ago, then all is well.
The difficulty about the step forward that we are taking tonight is that people may misunderstand its meaning. I grant that, on the face of it, there seems to be a big jump in moving from £6,500,000 to £20 million, but, as an hon. Member has already pointed out, it all depends upon the pace of the development. The ££6,500,000 granted under a recent Act was intended, I thought then, and I believe everybody else also thought, to be expended within five or six years. That would have been a very substantial development in Scottish water schemes.
§ Mr. Stewart
No, but that was the understanding. If the hon. Member was here, as I think he was, at that time he will recollect that that is what all Scottish Members expected. It would have been a substantial development, something of the order of £1 million a year. This sum of £20 million, according to the repeated testimony of the Secretary of State, will take 50 years to expend. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am prepared to be corrected, but I believe that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear in his introductory speech that it might take from 25 to 50 years.
§ Mr. Stewart
All right, let us say from 15 to 20 years. Divide the £20 million over 16 or 20 years: What sort of pace is that, in this age? It cannot possibly be right today and it surely will not be defended by hon. Members opposite. The truth is that we have obtained from the Secretary of State for Scotland this afternoon an admission that we are going to be pottering along with this water scheme with even less drive than before and that, in fact, Scottish development will be slower in the next five, 10 or 15 years than it is now. Is that right, or is it not?
§ Mr. Scollan
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here when the Secretary of State for Scotland deliberately said to one hon. Gentleman who was speaking upon something like the same point, that the scarcity of labour during a period of full employment 1456 obviously would slow down development. There was no excuse for spending only £1 million a year when we had nearly two million people unemployed and all the material necessary to enable us to go on with the scheme.
§ Mr. Stewart
It is very interesting to hear hon. Members opposite on the Socialist Benches preparing themselves for the day when the country will turn round and say that this scheme is really a fraud. What a fraud it is! In five years time little or nothing will have been done. Nobody would be more pleased than I to see the scheme succeed, because nobody has pleaded more consistently than I have for water schemes. No part of Scotland needs the benefit of those schemes more than my part of the country, yet I doubt whether anything very much will happen. I seriously invite the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who is a fair-minded man and knows Scottish conditions, to clarify this matter for us. Is it really the intention of the Government to proceed at a rate of about £1 million a year, for whatever reason that may be, or is it their intention, as I hope it is, to regard this matter as of first-class importance; and to drive it forward?
§ Mr. Willis
The hon. Member has been making a very interesting statement concerning expenditure. Where I am puzzled is this: He thought that £6 million spent over five or six years was very good.
§ Mr. Willis
Apparently he thinks that £20 million spent over 15 years is a fraud. Will the hon. Gentleman explain?
§ Mr. Stewart
Are we to understand that a rate of expenditure proposed in the middle of a war, is to be regarded by the Socialist Party as a perfectly satisfactory rate of expenditure after the war and in the middle of peace? If that is so. I am surprised.
I will put two points to the Secretary of State for Scotland quite seriously. They are points upon which I invite his assistance. We are now to have great national schemes. I speak with a certain amount of experience in this matter. Whenever there is a new regional scheme for a new source of water supply, we immediately run up against the problem of rates and water control. The hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. 1457 Spence) was not raising an unimportant point when he put his question to the Joint Under-Secretary of State. It was a matter of extraordinary importance. What is the trouble in Fife now? The small areas are kicking against the new regional scheme because the rates are to go up by an enormous amount, some two, three, four or six times.
§ Mr. Watson
It has been stated in the Debate tonight that two district committees of the county council were responsible for all the big schemes in that county. Will the hon. Gentleman say what the ratepayers in the St. Andrew's and Cupar districts have contributed towards them?
§ Mr. Stewart
I cannot tell the hon. Member without notice. I can only put a broad case to the Government and to the House, and say that we cannot introduce a great regional scheme in any part of the country without running up against difficulties. The local authorities, whose water is to be swallowed up, as it were, by the main scheme, are concerned about their authority. The hon. Member knows that very well. In many parts of the country the local people are concerned about the rates they have to pay. I am all for the regional scheme. I am merely raising this matter in order to invite the Secretary of State for Scotland to help us in this respect. We shall need all the help we can get in Fife and in other counties in Scotland, in regard to this difficult problem. I hope that the Scottish Office will give us what help they can in due course.
The last point I want raise has been put to me by the Fife County Council. The Bill provides for water rate being levied on the gross annual value. I am wondering why that method has been chosen. Why have we departed from the old-established method of the rateable value? Has any serious objection arisen which has given rise to this idea of the gross annual value? Why should the Bill continue to carry on a complicated scheme of rating which one thought had been passed by? It is not understood why water rates should be determined by reference to the gross annual value, while all other rates are based upon the rateable value. This is a serious and not unimportant point. If the right hon. Gentleman is not able to deal with it tonight, I hope that the Scottish Office will be good enough to consider it.
1458 Here is a Bill to which one wishes God-speed, but one hopes that it will be a bit speedier than seems likely. It will he a fraud if it is not speedier. That is the point. I have asked the Government to believe that, so far as I am concerned, I will regard it as a good Bill when I see in five years time, the bulk of the £20 million spent.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Gandar Dower (Caithness and Sutherland)
Briefly I wish to congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on the introduction of this Bill. I cannot fail to do so because in every speech I have made in my constituency I have stressed the importance of improved water supplies. I am anxious that this should not be a party matter and I feel rather sorry that the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) introduced a point that for a moment aroused party feelings. It could only be a matter of suspicion if untoward delay arose, and I do not believe the Government Front Bench have any other desire than to push forward with the utmost speed. They know very well that no expenditure, even in these hard times, is more worth while than expenditure on improving the country amenities. Water is essential to the rural districts of Scotland, as I well know. The outlying districts of Sutherland and Caithness need it beyond belief. I should not like to suggest anything that would delay the delivery of that water, and I hope to live to see it.
I wish to support the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) in his point that where a satisfactory supply exists, the owner-occupier should not be forced to accept this supply. However, I do not read into the Bill that he will be obliged to do so. I also wish to support the excellent recommendation which the hon. and gallant Member for Perth put forward, that an overall survey be made the Scottish water system, because the best supply may not be found in one county or one area, and so the wider issue should be studied. However, the time factor is everything, and if such an overall survey were to delay the provision of water supplies, I should no longer support it.
I can assure the Government that on this side of the House, Scottish Members will do their utmost in Committee 1459 to co-operate fully in improving the Bill, for that romantic little nursery rhyme—Jack and Jill went up the hillTo fetch a pail of water.has often an unpleasant sound in Scottish rural districts when, on a winter's night, it represents an actual reality.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
The Debate has ranged widely, and it is clear already that there will be a considerable amount of discussion in Committee. That is inevitable because not only is Great Britain as a whole, one of the pioneers in water engineering, but because certain citizens of Scotland took the step of the Loch Katrine scheme, which was one of the earliest, and most successful of the great feats of water engineering in Western Europe. In spite of what we may say in exchanging the usual compliments and controversies from either side of the House, it is true that the domestic water supplies of Great Britain, take it all over, are equal to, if not superior to those of any other country in the world, and that goes even for great countries such as the United States. All we want to do is to improve them still further, and it is with that object, I am certain, that the Secretary of State has brought forward this Bill.
The Debate, as I have said, has ranged widely from the familiar rhyme of Jack and Jill, which we have just heard, to the miracles of Moses, which were introduced by the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan). I think he got the wrong miracle. He referred to manna, but the miracle properly under discussion just now was the occasion when Moses struck the rock and obtained a water supply of excellent quality. I would remind the Secretary of State, however, that there was a great deal of grumbling before that water supply was obtained, and after it the controversies as to its origin were so great that it led to the untimely death of the supplier. I hope the precedent will not be followed.
§ Mr. Scollan
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not recognise that when I spoke of the manna from Heaven, I was referring to the £20 million.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I remember that in the case of the miracle of the manna and the quails or the water, it was rather the physical supplies than the financial resources available to which the Jews, even at that time, devoted their attention. It shows how much more important actual material is than finance. That we will come on to for a moment, for it is really the point around which controversy has ranged during the discussion of the Bill.
As far as I can see, the two main points were whether allocation of the charges was just and, secondly, what is what one might call the time schedule, in the expenditure of this present sum. Because, although £20 million sounds a considerable sum, £1 million a year sounds much smaller, and it sounds from the carefully guarded statement of the Secretary of State rather more like the smaller sum of £1 million per annum than the lump sum of £20 million which the House has had in mind mostly tonight.
To deal with the other subject first, the question of charge. On both sides of the House there has been some uneasiness lest those who have provided themselves with a supply of water will be charged again for a supply of water which is being made available to others. On that the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson) seemed to be arguing the same point as was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan). In both cases the complaint was that either a community or an individual who had provided water, or would have to provide water because he would never find a public supply available, should also be charged for water in the general county rate.
I think the House remained unconvinced about that point, and more explanation will have to be given in Committee or, indeed, if the Under-Secretary can give it when winding up, I am sure the House will be grateful. After all, it is not merely the case of the man in the rural area, who has not a water supply who is being charged. Several people have said, "Why not place an obligation on the local authority to supply him?" I think the physical difficulties would prevent that. But that is not the only hard case. The other is the case of the man in the rural area who has already pro- 1461 vided himself with a water supply at his own expense and who now is to be charged a water rate for something which he will never enjoy.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Yes, but an extra 2d. or 3d. in the £ is by no means a negligible burden, especially when one is paying for an article which one has already provided for oneself at one's own expense.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not confusing the domestic water, which the person provides for himself, with the public water rate which is provided for public purposes?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
No, not at all. There is the case of a man in the upland valleys of Roxburghshire, for instance, who has provided himself with a supply. I left such a water supply on Sunday, and I shall have a word to say to the Secretary of State about that in a moment. The man—and the man in this case is myself—has provided a water supply for a farm which will never enjoy public water supply from the county. It is true we shall not pay the domestic rate, but we shall pay the share of the general county rate.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
As I say, we shall be paying, as various other people will be paying, for an article which they have already provided for themselves and for which they will never receive any benefit. The public benefits mentioned by the Bryce Walker Committee were fire fighting—no fire engine will use anything but local water when it comes up the glens of Scotland; sewer flushing—they will not use public water for that; street cleansing—they do not have any streets, so they will not be cleansed; street watering—street watering is done by the Almighty; public fountains—I cannot think of anybody up the glens or at the back of the bens demanding that a public fountain should be installed for his amusement, and still less that he would make a pilgrimage to, let us say, Trafalgar Square to enjoy the amenity of the public fountain playing there.
§ Mr. Willis
Does not the right hon. and gallant Member think that Edinburgh Castle should be floodlit?
§ Mr. Willis
Will the right hon. and gallant Member agree that all sorts of people demanded that the fountains in Princes Street Gardens should be playing?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I can give the assurance that the number of people who go from Roxburghshire to watch the fountains playing in the middle of Edinburgh is very small indeed. We should be perfectly prepared to pay an adequate sum each year, which would be very much less than a rate of 2d. in the £, as an admission fee for such a spectacle if we came down to Edinburgh to see such a thing. These are, I think, attempts rather to sidetrack a real problem which will emerge in several ways. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) cited the case of the crofter as against that of the cottager. That problem certainly will be a fairly acute one. The crofter, who used to be the most hard up member of the community, is by no means in that position now.
Taking the question all over, as to whether some people should get water and not pay for it, and others pay for it and not get it, is a contrast on which the House—or, rather, the Scottish Grand Committee—will require to be reassured before it will pass the provisions of this Measure. Of course, the Government looks after its own and the Bill carefully lays out that its pet children, such as the Electricity Authority, should not be rated in any way for water. Gas, of course, is a sort of stepchild of the Government and will come in for the ordinary charges. That is one of the anomalies which the Government produces as fast as it tries to sweep away others. No Government can sweep all the anomalies away. It is hopeless to expect that it can.
An argument which was brought up specially by my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) and by several other hon. Members was the necessity of making sure that water schemes and sewage and drainage schemes should go forward together. When I was at the Scottish Office I found—and I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will 1463 find the same—that there was much more enthusiasm about providing a water scheme than about providing a drainage scheme. It is an odd fact in human nature that our minds all turn more quickly to the provision of something than to the getting rid of its waste products. I trust that this point, which was made by several hon. Members on both sides of the House, will not be lost sight of.
The really difficult remaining question, which was pointed out in the very forceful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) and touched upon also by other hon. Members, is the actual rate of development. The gross sum of £20 million has been mentioned and many hon. Members have been rather lyrical about the achievements of the Secretary of State in getting grants from the flinty-hearted Treasury. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) became quite excited about it. The Treasury is never loath to give people post-dated cheques. The real difficulty is to get a cheque which can he immediately cashed.
As far as I understand, the money for the previous grant has not yet been expended, or even nearly expended. Therefore, we are not discussing any immediate relaxation or improvement in the rate of water development in Scotland because there is still in existence a considerable amount of money already voted by this House for this purpose. It has not been expended owing to the grip and control kept on the supply of the actual articles and materials——
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
—and labour. I will say more about material presently, because I am not speaking without knowledge. In broad general figures, however, I understand that of the £6,375,000 voted by this House some £3 million has been promised by way of grants and about £4 million worth of schemes have been approved or commenced, which would mean that over £2 million still remains, not even promised and, of course, far from being expended.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. John Wheatley)
The figures of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman are wrong: three plus four equals seven.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I am asking whether these two things go together, whether they may be added to each other: that is to say, if the grants promised are to be added to the grants approved. I am asking merely for information. At any rate, the grants promised are of the order of £3 million, and the amount approved or already commenced comes to £4 million. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can inform us where that £4 million stands; will it be expended in the course of one year, or two, three or four years, and what is his sort of time schedule for the expenditure of that money? In other words, when does he expect to have to draw upon the money to which the House is now being asked to agree. For the fund is still considerably in credit, and it has been found impossible for reason; not of finance, but of labour and material, to draw upon the funds which the House has already entrusted to the Government.
The Secretary of State seemed to query my remarks about the question of material. I was speaking only of a little water scheme, but all water schemes arrive at the same end: a tap in a house. I have in mind one which I left only two days ago. In May we obtained all the permits necessary to proceed with the scheme of relaying a set of pipes which I and my father before me had installed in the farmhouse, entirely at our own expense, to convey water, as it should be conveyed, into the farmhouse to provide running water and internal sanitation. In the course of time the pipes had began to fur up and the flow of water through the pipes became smaller. There is no difficulty whatever about labour, or about finance or permits. At any rate, there was no difficulty in May.
We asked then whether we could do the work and we were told, "Yes." We asked whether we could get the pipes, but were told, "No." We asked again for the pipes in June and received the same reply. We asked again in July, and again in August, whether there were any signs of the pipes but were told, "No." In September, beginning to get a little worried because of the long time the scheme was kept waiting and the coming approach of winter, we asked again and, once more, were told, "No." This procedure was repeated in October and again in November. There are no 1465 signs yet whatever of the pipes to put into the trench from the spring to the farmhouse, although we have been at it since May, and have every form filled in and every permit secured.
Under those conditions £15 million seems, I db not say a fraud, but it does seem rather a bad joke. I hope that as a result of bringing it personally to the notice of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary it will be possible for a few lengths of pipe to become available to proceed with the permits which we have had for so long.
§ Mr. Scollan
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for an hon. Member to take advantage of the Debate to advance his own personal claims?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
At the outset I declared my interest in every possible way and to rub it in and underscore it I will do so again. I say from personal, public and on general grounds there are many such examples, large and small, of schemes which could go on and which are held up, not from want of money, but from want of labour and materials. The Secretary of State said in a very guarded passage that as long as full employment continued he did not think it would be possible to proceed at a faster rate. That was rubbed in by the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan), who seemed to be in great voice tonight between the miracles of Moses, a desire to abolish the local authorities and his statement that the Secretary of State could not do more than a million pounds or a million and a half a year. He seemed to be as much an embarrassment to his friends as a delight to his adversaries.
These are two points on which we wish to be reassured. Will the Secretary of State keep an open mind on the question of charges? I am sure that from various parts of the House points will be raised on that question and on some aspects he will find it difficult to carry the whole Committee with him. Will he also give us some time schedule over which the unexpended portion of the £6 million odd voted by this House will be expended and some indication of the time when he will begin to draw on the new sums the House 1466 are being asked to vote on tonight. If he can do those things and give a satisfactory answer he will greatly reassure the House and enable us to proceed to the further stages of the Bill with a good conscience and to join in the congratulations which have come from all sides of the House on what we believe is a genuine desire to improve the water conditions of Scotland and make another step forward in the amenities of our country.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
We have had a very happy Debate, indeed almost too happy to reply to, as i find so little into which I can bite at this time of the day. However, there have been many points raised to which I will try to give a reply, although I think many were raised by hon. Members who will wish to have those matters further discussed during the Committee stage. The Debate has been marked by a most excellent maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. MacPherson), who spoke very confidently and very competently. I know we shall hear a lot more from him in the future.
Going back to the beginning of this controversy as to why people in the remoter parts of, the country should pay the public water rate, I think it was started by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) asking why it was that we had departed from the recommendations of the Bryce Walker Committee that the public water rate should be 25 per cent. of the total water rate and the domestic water rate should be 75 per cent. I thought the hon. and gallant Member gave the answer to the question by proceeding to ask why it was we asked the rural dweller to pay exactly the same water rate as the town dweller.
The reason we did not accept the recommendations of the Bryce Walker Committee to have the fixed proportions of 25 per cent. and 75 per cent. was that we realised that in urban areas a higher proportion of the water consumed was consumed for public purposes than in rural areas. In cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow, a higher proportion of the total water consumed will be consumed for street cleaning, fire fighting and public 1467 health services of all kinds than is the case in the remoter parts of the country. We thought we ought to give some responsibility to individual local authorities to determine what proportion of the water rate would be set aside as the public water rate and what proportion as the domestic water rate. That is the reason for the proportions of 20 per cent. and 33⅓ per cent.
There has been a lot of discussion on the question of why a person living in a remote part of the country who does not have a piped water supply at present and will not have such a supply for a considerable time but who has to provide a supply at his own expense, should be required to pay the public water rate. Frankly, I cannot understand those who put forward the view that that person should not be asked to pay any water rate at all. If it would be right and proper for the person the right hon. and gallant Member described as living up a glen, who provided his own domestic water supply, to be excused from paying a public water rate, what justification could there be for imposing an education rate on him, if he has no children at school?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Surely the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that no one living in that farm is ever going to have any children or need for children to go to school?
§ Mr. Fraser
One does not know. Even though the farmer in that farm is going to have children, if he is the sort of farmer described by the right hon. and gallant Member, in all probability he would send his children to a school other than a local education authority school.
§ Mr. Fraser
Certainly he would and he would still be expected to pay the education rate. The answer has been given over and over again. Why should the blind ratepayer pay for the stair gas? Why should the burglar pay a police rate? In any case the farmers in Roxburghshire will occasionally go to market. They will then use streets which have been cleaned by a public water supply and will use some other places after they have visited the locals and have a water 1468 supply there which will be much needed. Why on earth they should not pay the public water rate, I do not know. No case has been made out.
§ Mr. Fraser
Oh, they can benefit. People in the rural areas will sometimes have a fire. A house or farm will go on fire and the fire brigade will be sent to put it out.
§ Mr. Fraser
If the inhabitants of Fair Isle and Foula are to pay for the services they get, do I take it that they are going to pay for all the services they get and that they will pay an education rate for the educational facilities they have in Fair Isle and Foula? What is the answer to that one?
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok asked about shootings and fishings and whether they would be asked to pay the rate. I believe that later on it was pointed out that Clause 2 (2) provides that only those who get a water supply will in fact pay a domestic water rate. In respect of shootings and fishings for which they do not get a water supply from the water authority, they will not pay any domestic water rate. If they get a supply they will only pay on one-eighth of their valuation, as provided in the Clause of the Bill to which the hon. and gallant Member drew attention.
§ Commander Galbraith
Does "supply" mean the water actually delivered, or is the definition that which I gave?
§ Mr. Fraser
I was about to say that the hon. and gallant Gentleman drew our attention to the recommendation of the Bryce Walker Committee, who thought that we should levy the domestic water 1469 rate upon all premises situated within one hundred yards of the water mains. We did not take their advice. We envisaged a water supply being taken to a crofting community and it skirting within a hundred yards of some fishings or shootings, with the result that those shootings or fishings would become liable to a domestic water rate because of the fact that the water supply was within a hundred yards. I think that the view taken by the Committee was that if a piped water supply was within a hundred yards of an ordinary house, it would not be very difficult for the owner or occupant of the house to get a water supply from the mains. We have taken the view that a domestic water rate should not be levied on any persons other than those who actually have a supply laid on by the water authority.
We have had considerable discussion about the time which it will take to complete the work, the time which it is to' take, as many hon. Members have said, to spend from £10 million to £20 million. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) called our attention to the difficulty he has had in getting a few pipes to complete a job for which he has all the licences, permits, etc., which were necessary. One of the reasons he is having so much difficulty in getting delivery of those pipes is that a lot of work is going on at the present time. Local authorities are carrying out works. Villages which have not up to now had a water supply are now getting one; new housing schemes are in progress. There is a considerable demand for all these materials. We have to be realistic in considering how long it is likely to take us to complete the water schemes which are covered by the £20 million. It was right for my right hon. Friend to sound a note of warning in his speech to the effect that no one should think that all this work would be done in two or three years' time. He estimated that it would take 15 or 20 years. If, however, circumstances should so change that the work can be completed in five or ten years no one will be more happy than my right hon. Friend.
In any event, as my right hon. Friend has just reminded me, he is not doing the work, nor do the Government do the work. It is done by the local authorities. 1470 The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) talked about our making speed so very slowly, even more slowly than hitherto. In saying that he was not criticising the Government but the local authorities, because every county authority in Scotland now has a scheme in hand. If work is not proceeding, that is no criticism of the Government. Every authority has a scheme of some sort approved, if they can get the materials and labour to do the work.
§ Mr. Fraser
In any event, all this discussion about the time it will take to complete the schemes arises out of the fact that a most far-seeing and good Government have decided to set £20 million to be spent upon rural water supplies in Scotland. One got the impression, when the hon. Member for East Fife was speaking, that this sort of thing had been going on for generations, that in the "bad days between the wars" which he said we on this side of the House so often talked about, this work was going on apace.
§ Mr. Fraser
I wonder if the hon. Member knows when the local authorities in Scotland were first given assistance from State funds for the provision of water supplies? The hon. Member has not the foggiest notion of when that began.
§ Mr. Fraser
It began with the Act of 1934, which was only introduced after a serious drought in this country. That Act provided for expenditure from State funds of £137,500, and we are told that £20 million is a drop——
§ Mr. Fraser
I must correct the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, because the first one has not yet been spent. The Government of before the war were in such a hurry that by 1944 the £137,000 had still not been spent.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I do not wish constantly to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but when he gets himself into such a mess it is necessary for him to get out 1471 of it. He has just told us—in fact, he has been pushing it down the neck of my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife—that all this work is done by the local authorities, that it was the local authorities that were getting on with it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I will not interrupt again, but surely the hon. Member knows that there is an air-tight control of supplies now by the Government which did not exist before the war.
§ Mr. Fraser
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will consult the 1944 Act he will find that it repealed the 1934 Act, except the parts of that Act which provided for the expenditure of money. That was because the £137,500 had not then been wholly spent. Some schemes were still proceeding.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I have been trying to get in a word for the last five minutes. Despite that great torrent of words from the hon. Gentleman, the fact is that during the years in which I was in this House—from 1933 onwards—water schemes were proceeding, and I do not consider that I would he much mistaken were I to say that they were proceeding at a faster rate than the present scheme is likely to do.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Member can make his estimate and be proved wrong, if he wishes. The fact is that until now those who have held the responsibility of government—this does not apply to my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House but to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—have never been able to accept the fact that a clean water supply is an essential to decent living wherever one resides in the country. Local authorities could not afford to instal a water supply in the rural areas. Indeed, our earlier Statute provided for the special districts about which my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) spoke. That Act allowed them to pick the plums within counties and have schemes for particular parts of a county. They could not go ahead and provide a scheme for the County of Lanarkshire or Fife or any other county.
§ Mr. Fraser
It was not done. That is why in Fife and elsewhere one finds special water districts. That is because neither the local authorities nor the Government faced up to the public responsibility of providing a clean water supply for the people of this country, wherever they might live.
§ Mr. Stewart
This will not do. The hon. Gentleman is making a statement about the county which I represent which is untrue. I invite him to reconsider tomorrow what he has said and to make a proper, due apology.
§ Mr. Fraser
I think that the hon. Gentleman is telling me that they do not have special water districts.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is not fair. With great respect, the hon. Member is now running out of the statement. He is running away from what he said to the House. He indicated to the House that the County of Fife had, in fact, done nothing because they did not accept the principle that water was a public responsibility. I say that that is a lie and I ask for a withdrawal.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I order the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that word "lie," which he knows is unparliamentary.
§ Mr. Fraser
I did not make the statement. I said that neither the local authority nor the Government could face up to the responsibility in the past, and that is a statement of fact which cannot be controverted. It was accepted as a known fact in 1944, when Mr. Tom Johnston was able to come to this Box with a Bill that provided for the granting of £6,375,000 from State funds. It has been suggested today that this increase from £6,375,000 to £20 million has been necessitated by an increase in cost. Does anyone really believe that? I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been 1473 with us all the time, but it will be within his recollection that several hon. Members have said that, in fact, this money was made necessary by increased costs But, in fact, even in 1944 it was not contemplated that the Government would be playing a part in getting water schemes thoroughout the whole of rural Scotland by assisting to the extent of £6,375,000. That was only to enable them to make a start. Since then we have had schemes submitted from counties all over Scotland. We have estimated what the total works will cost. We have a formula for assisting local authorities in providing rural water supplies and for reconstruction, but the total cost would be £20 million.
This Government really has appreciated the need for a clean, piped water supply being made available everywhere in the country. This Government has appreciated the responsibility to enable a clean water supply to be put in all over the country. We are inviting all the local authorities to submit schemes. If we do not accept and approve a scheme, it is because that scheme is unsatisfactory from a technician's point of view, or that for some reason or other it does not provide adequately, or provides for too much, or is making too big a demand on certain sources of water supply. It is no longer on account of costs. It is significant that even today we have had murmurs from hon. Members on the other side of the House that £20 million is a lot of money.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
The hon. Member having given me that leer, I should like to answer. I said we should watch expenditure or we should not have the money to spend on this most desirable object. That is a very important point. If we have not the money, the scheme will not go through.
§ Mr. Fraser
What I am saying is that the Government accepts this responsibility which is shared, of course, with the local authorities. It is their responsibility in the first place, but we have to help them. This amount of money represents the Government's contribution to providing a decent water supply and sewerage scheme throughout rural Scotland.
§ Mr. Fraser
Since the lion. Member for East Fife made such play with the time it is going to take to complete the work, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities said that it was worthy of the attention of the Government, etc., let us have a look at what it represents. The Government are going to spend £20 million, with the contribution of the local authorities. Let us estimate that at another £20 million. That is £40 million. Now the cost of a water supply is very largely the wages bill. What does £40 million represent in the wages bill? It represents the wages of 6,000 workers for 20 years estimating the wages at 3s. an hour working 44 hours a week. Or, if this work is completed in 10 years, it represents the wages of 12,000 workers working steadily all the time for 10 years.
It is when we begin to get this thing into that perspective that we appreciate what a tremendous task we have undertaken. But we are not deterred. We are encouraging local authorities to go ahead. The job will take a long time. My right hon. Friend has estimated 15 to 20 years. We have schemes beginning now that will not be completed for six or seven years. They have begun already, and the local authorities know that in some cases they will not have reservoirs completed inside five years. It is a tremendous undertaking, and we for our part will push the undertaking ahead as speedily as we possibly can.
The other matter which we have discussed at some considerable length is the exclusion of the small landholder from the payment of this domestic water rate. The question was asked, "Why?" I wonder whether hon. Members opposite take the view that the crofter should be rated equally with the rest of the ratepayers of the country for all the services that he gets? If they think that, they have had many opportunities, since they inherited the Government of this country from the Liberals early in this century, to correct the misdeeds of the Liberals in giving this exemption from rating to the crofters. But they have never taken 1475 advantage of the opportunities given them.
As a matter of fact, we have done something that the Tories never had the courage to do. In the Water Act of 1946, we did provide that local authorities could make a reasonable charge for water supplies to the crofters, quite apart from the normal rating provisions. We provided that they may make a reasonable charge for water supply. Many hon. Gentlemen opposite have said this evening that that is not satisfactory, and that it ought to be put on a proper footing, and that every croft in the country ought to be valued, and that all these smallholders ought to have their houses valued, and that they ought to pay on the valuation like everybody else. But do they think that they ought to be valued and asked to pay a proper education rate?
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to what I said, but I have never made any statement of that kind. What I said was that the smallholder ought to- pay a water rate on the existing system by which he was rated, that is all.
§ Mr. Fraser
I said that many hon. Members had discussed this matter and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) did, of course, as did the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Perth and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum). All of them discussed the altering of Clause 2, Subsection (5), to take away this exclusion or exemption of the smallholder.
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, but the 1946 Act is the answer. If we are not satisfied with the 1946 Act what we have to do is to make up our minds whether the crofter is going to continue to be de-rated as he is at the present time, or whether he is not. Hon. Gentlemen opposite think that he ought not to be de-rated.
§ Mr. Snadden
The point made was why should a smallholder be excluded from a domestic rate upon water which he does get, when a man in the remoter 1476 areas has to pay a public rate for the water which he does not get. That was the point.
§ Mr. Fraser
Do not let us get too confused about this. We are asking either for more money from the crofters or for less money. As I understood the comments of the hon. Member for West Perth and the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll they took the view that the crofter ought to have his house valued and he ought to pay a rate on the valuation of the house in which he lives. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland says, "Oh, no, we just continue and if the man gets a supply of water he will pay the domestic water rate on his existing valuation." The position is that he is not valued at all for his house. If a man pays a rent of £1 a year for a plot of ground and then he builds a house, that house is an improvement which is not rated, so that the assessment at which he is rated is that of £1 a year. Then he is derated to the extent of seven-eighths, so he pays rates on 2s. 6d. a year. If he pays a water rate of 1s. in the £—well, hon. Members can calculate it for themselves. Is that what they are asking for? We should be told whether they are asking that the crofters should pay 1½ a year or whether they should pay a reasonable sum as provided for in the Act of 1946.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not followed me. He has not understood. I want to know whether he wants the crofter to be assessed in the same way as the farmer or whether he wants him to pay domestic water rate on the 2s. 6d. with which he pays his rates each year.
§ Mr. Fraser
That may be £1 a year: in many cases it is £3 a year. Hon. Members must think over this matter and between now and the Committee stage they must tell us what they want. During the Committee stage we shall discuss the proposals which they make.
§ Major McCallum
The hon. Member is shirking the issue. This issue is not posed by hon. Members of this House: 1477 it is put by the Association of County Councils. The hon. Member will get representations from that Association and he should tell this tale to them.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must not try to slip out of it like that. Either he agrees or disagrees with the Association of County Councils.
§ Mr. Fraser
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman agrees with the Association he cannot get out of this question by saying, "We are not protesting. It is the County Councils who are protesting." He cannot get out of it like that. Either he agrees or he disagrees, and if he agrees and makes a speech, he cannot say, "I am not speaking: the Association of County Councils is speaking."
The position is that the provisions of this Bill were agreed with the local government associations, since when the Association of County Councils have told us that they would like to have the crofters brought within the terms of the Measure. They do not want the crofters to be excluded. They say that they do not want to have the crofters required to pay what the local authorities consider to be a reasonable sum for the water with which they supply them, but that the crofters ought to be assessed in the same way as the farmers and ought to pay a rate on the valuation of the houses in which they live. We told them on 27th September that we do not propose to adjust this Bill in the way they have suggested. Since then, as far as I know, we have not heard anything further from them.
If we accepted their advice, I cannot see how we could refrain from imposing upon them the normal education rate and the highways rate—indeed all the normal rates payable by ratepayers elsewhere. The hon. Members who support the Association of County Councils had better make up their minds where, if at all, they will draw the line.
§ Major McCallum
Will not the crofter have to pay the public water rate under this Bill? Of course he will. The Government are inflicting a public water rate on the crofters whether they get the water or not.
§ Mr. Fraser
The crofter will pay his public water rate on his 3s. or 4s. a 1478 year, and I think that he will pay it with a smile.
The hon. Member for North Edinburgh drew my attention to the fact that we have treated shops and certain business premises rather particularly in this Bill, whereas we have left cinemas and theatres in the same category as houses and require them to pay the full domestic water rate. I had overlooked that position. I think that their position may not be very different from that of many shops and that the amount of water they consume in relation to their valuation must be small. We shall have to look into that matter. may be that there are other categories of buildings, particularly in the towns, which we shall have to consider in Committee.
The only other general point which has been discussed at any length is the question of compensation to which many of my hon. Friends have taken exception. The position is that local authorities have negotiated with private individuals for the taking of water supplies from lands owned by the individuals. When they made their arrangements they have made provision for giving a free supply of water, of a stated or unstated amount, in perpetuity. The local authorities themselves do not like this idea very much. They do not want to negotiate any more such schemes in the future. A long time ago they said that this appeared to be a matter which should be dealt with in this Measure. We agreed to deal with it and all we can do is to provide that there shall be no addition to the water supplied to such individuals or estates free of any charge.
I think that some hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House would regard compensation of that kind as confiscation. From 27th October, we are not going to give them anything additional to what they are getting at the present time, and we are not going to allow any arrangements of that kind to be made in schemes in future. Local authorities here and there may want to end the present arrangements, and require the consumers of water in any estate or estates in which there is such an arrangement to make their normal contribution to the rates. If they should do that, they will have to bring to an end the right which the person enjoys at the present time. We think, and I believe the local authorities think, 1479 that it would be proper to consider making a payment to them for the right that is being taken away from them.
It can be argued that the amount of money which they would have got, had there not been this provision for free water in the arrangement, would have been more than, in fact, they did get. but, in any case, if any authority does not want to bring to an end the existing arrangement, this question of compensation is not going to arise at all but, if they want to bring it to an end, they will have to be willing to pay compensation, and it is to be hoped that such compensation paid will be a sum which is arrived at amicably. It may or it may not be; we cannot tell, but we think we are sound in principle in what we are proposing.
§ Mr. Willis
Will my hon. Friend allow me? I did not argue that, maybe, local authorities should make an agreement. What I was arguing was the approach. It seems to me that, if we are going to compensate for the value of a right, it is a very indefinite thing, and it may involve some fancy sort of figure. I should have thought that the better approach was made by making a payment for the hardship caused by the cessation of this right, which had been obtained by holding a pistol at the heads of the local authorities and saying, "You will have no water unless you give us this right."
§ Mr. Fraser
This is a matter that can be argued during the Committee stage of the Bill. I was merely trying to indicate that, so far as I know, the provisions of the Bill in that regard are as desired by the local authorities who are involved in this matter. We are not paying any State money in this direction, except in the case of local authorities where an equalisation grant has been paid by the State. None of the £20 million is involved in this. I understand that the local authorities are quite happy with the provisions of the Bill, but the matter can be further discussed at a later stage.
Two of my hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael), called attention to the position of an authority, such as that of Glasgow, which was supplying water to the residents of an adjoining authority, such as Rutherglen or Bearsden. The hon. Member for Tradeston said there was nothing 1480 in the Bill to protect the Glasgow ratepayer, who might have to pay more for water supplied by his own authority than did the citizen of Rutherglen who was buying Glasgow water. I invite my hon. Friend to look at Clause 11 (3), where he will find provisions for adjustment if either Glasgow or Rutherglen should ask for some adjustment to be made because an unfair burden would be imposed on the authority.
§ Mr. Rankin
I think I tried to make the point clear that an adjustment could only be made in a downward direction.
§ Mr. Fraser
I used the term adjustment, and the Subsection referred to, provides for such adjustments being made. It is a matter that we can have a look at, and, if my hon. Friend is right, perhaps the Subsection itself would have to be adjusted in Committee.
I seem to have spoken at much too great length, and I am sorry if I have bored the House, but I have had many interruptions, though I think we have all had a good time. We are pleased, despite one or two reservations, some of them a little frigid, like those of the hon. Member for East Fife, that the House has welcomed the Bill. For my part, I am very proud to be a member of the Government which has brought forward this Bill, which, for the first time, acknowledges the right of citizens in any part of the country to a clean water supply.
§ Question, "That the Bill now be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.