§ 3.40 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I do not think I need delay your Lordships for more than a few minutes in explaining the purpose of this small 758 measure. Its object is to provide the additional money required to continue the grants payable to regional water boards and local authorities for water and sewerage schemes in rural localities in Scotland. The original Act was passed in 1944 and authorised grants to be paid for this purpose up to a limit of £6,375,000. I must say, in passing, that I admire the success which the Treasury had in those days of getting down to almost the last £1,000 which was going to be authorised. The original limit has been increased by successive enactments to the present limit of £45 million. The position has now been reached, however, where this money will have been fully pledged in about a year's time. It is therefore proposed to provide a further sum of £15 million for the purpose, thereby increasing the limit to £60 million.
Your Lordships may be interested to know what these grants have achieved. When the 1944 Act was passed about one-third of the rural population had no piped water supplies, and where they existed some were unreliable in quantity and imperfect in quality. Sewerage ser-vices were even less generally available and large numbers of houses had only dry closets. In the 25 years since the 1944 Act was passed, more than £200 million has been spent on water supply, sewerage and sewage disposal in Scotland, and schemes to the total value of about £71 million have been assisted under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Acts. of this total about £54 million has been on the provision of water supplies and £17 million on sewerage and sewage disposal. Latest estimates are that, taking Scotland as a whole, more than 99 per cent. of the population have a piped water supply and about 96 per cent. are living in houses connected to a sewerage system.
I think the House will agree that this is quite an impressive achievement. So far as water goes, Scotland has reached a standard at which we can feel some pride, while, as regards the provision of a waterborne sewerage system, the programme has proceeded very satisfactorily. But work still remains; to be done particularly in taking water and sewerage services to small groups of houses in the remoter areas, and to farms. These are of course the most expensive areas to serve, but I hope that where an adequate 759 water supply is lacking, or a modern drainage system is needed, and these can be provided at reasonable cost, this will be done. I think everyone will agree that local authorities and water boards should continue to be helped in this important work of improving living standards in the countryside. This Bill provides further money for the purpose and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Hughes.)
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his brief but most clarifying explanation of this Bill, and I hope that we shall achieve our purpose of not taking up more than five minutes between us to agree to this £45 million, which works out at £9 million a minute. I think the Government are doing fairly well in this matter. As the noble Lord said, about 96 per cent. of houses in Scotland have piped water supplies and 99 per cent. have some kind of sewerage. But in the Highlands there are some areas where as many as 18 per cent. of the houses have not, and even in some of the more populated Lowland areas considerable pockets can be found where these amenities are lacking. Only last year I had to bore down about 600 feet to provide a water supply for about a dozen houses on my own property because they are situated at a height of over 600 feet, which apparently is too high for the Fife Water Scheme ever to be able to hope to supply them.
Perhaps the more important question in the Highlands concerns tourism, which is spreading rapidly into all sorts of small areas and brings a great deal of economic benefit to the inhabitants. The more houses which can be provided with proper sanitation, the better it will be. Again this is a Money Bill which will not have a Committee stage here, and I advise your Lordships to welcome it on Second Reading.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, before the Minister replies I should like to say a few words about this Bill. I am a member of a Highland county council and also of a water board. There are areas where we have difficulty, 760 because while during the winter we have only a small population, in the summer this may be increased by several thousands. This year the summer population will probably show an increase of a good many more than several thousands. I am speaking particularly of caravans and of the great mass of tourists who arrive during the summer season. This situation has presented us, especially on the West Coast, and indeed in the centre of Ross and Cromarty, about which I am talking, with some serious and dangerous problems as regards sewage disposal. The water supply situation is not too bad, but the disposal of sewage is becoming an increasingly difficult problem. I think that people down here do not always understand that in these Highland areas the population variation as between winter and summer is considerable.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with the noble Earl's last point. I do not think it is beyond the ingenuity of the Ross and Cromarty County Council to deal with this problem, but should it prove to be so I have no doubt that the noble Earl will see to it that the County Council Clerk takes up the matter with my Department. All I wish to do now is to make some slight corrections to Lord Dundee's arithmetic. He transposed the percentages for water and sewerage, and in his anxiety to place a very high value on your Lordships' time he used the figure of £45 million, which was the original figure. While I should very much like to make a record of this kind, we are in fact only committing another £15 million to the millions that we have to spend.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.