HC Deb 10 December 1929 vol 233 cc419-24

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Local Government (Bootle Water Rate) Order, 1929, dated the 26th day of September, 1929, made by the Minister of Health under Section 130 of the Local Government Act, 1929 (19 and 20 Geo. V., c. 17), for the removal of difficulties arising in connection with the application of certain provisions of that Act to the city of Liverpool and the county borough of Bootle, which was presented on the 29th day of October, 1929, be approved."—[Mr. A. Greenwood.]

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)





I did not anticipate opposition, and I wanted to say a word in explanation of this Order. I gathered in conversations which I have had with hon. Members on the opposite side that it is not controversial, but that it was desired that some explanation should be made. The House will remember that, under the Local Government Act, power was given for the removal of certain minor difficulties. A case has arisen which affects Liverpool and Bootle. Under a private Act promoted by the Liverpool Corporation—


On a point of Order. If the Order is objected to, is the Minister in order in giving an explanation?


The Bill may be objected to, but it can be proceeded with.

Commander WILLIAMS

I do object.


The Eleven o'Clock Rule has been suspended; besides, this is an Order and not a Bill.


The Rule was suspended for one thing, and for one thing alone.


This, I understand, is similar to a Gas Order, and is exempted business.


If hon. Members do not wish to hear the explanation, I have no special desire to give it. It is a simple matter, dealing with a difficulty which could not have been foreseen when the Local Government Act was passed. As I was saying when I was interrupted, by the Liverpool Corporation Act, passed eight years ago, it was arranged that a water rate of 6d. in the £ should be levied both in Liverpool and in Bootle. The rate in Bootle is actually levied by the Liverpool City Corporation. When the Local Government Act was passed certain difficulties arose because it took the smile definition of a local rate as was contained in the Rating and Valuation Act. The result of that is that a rate levied by the Liverpool City Corporation on Bootle is not a local rate within the meaning of the Act. The Bootle Corporation desire that Liverpool should continue to levy this particular water rate, and Liverpool is prepared to do so, but this curious circumstance has arisen, that the rate in Liverpool ranks for de-rating—I hope I shall have hon. Members opposite with me on this—and is to be taken into account in calculating the Exchequer grant, whereas the same rate in Bootle, because it is levied by the Liverpool Corporation, will not rank for de-rating. In Liverpool all industrial hereditaments will be de-rated in respect of this rate, while in Bootle they will not be.

It is not for me to argue whether particular hereditaments should be de- rated or not; that question was settled in the last Parliament. But we are, as a result of the Act of 1929, faced with this situation, that unless we get this Order people of precisely the same class, possibly competitors in business, in adjacent boroughs, will find themselves in entirely different circumstances. If this Order is passed it will enable us to declare that the Bootle water rate shall be regarded as a local rate, so that industrial enterprises in Bootle shall be de-rated and be on the same footing as those in Liverpool. I was informed that this was a question on which there could be no difference of opinion. We are not discussing the rights and wrongs of the Local Government Act, but a difficulty which has arisen with which this House is empowered to deal.


I understand this Order is based largely on the De-rating Act, and is intended to give a certain local authority advantages under that Act. It would not be in order to discuss de-rating on this occasion, but I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's commendations of it. [Interruption.] Oh, yes; otherwise the right hon. Gentleman would not be bringing in this Order. He used the phrase that the Order was intended to confer the advantages of the De-rating Act, and I do not know what other meaning can be attached to those words. [Interruption.] I take it to mean that the Act has advantages. If the right hon. Gentleman meant something else, he did not say so.


Equality of treatment.


At any rate, he appears to be converted to the Act today. I was going to say that he need not have taken up such an aggressive attitude when he rose to move the Order. [Interruption.] There was no reason why he should have been aggressive to those on this side of the House. The question was not whether—[Interruption.] There was no reason, I repeat, why he should have been aggressive. The question was not whether we on this side of the House objected to the Order, but whether the right hon. Gentleman, by the ordinary arrangements come to through the ordinary channels, was or was not entitled to take the business at this late hour. That was the only point at issue. The right hon. Gentleman, to the surprise of this side of the House, adopted towards us a rather aggressive attitude. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, certainly. [Interruption.] I intend to say this. It is not the least use trying to interrupt me. I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman and his friends that if they wish to get this sort of business through—[Interruption]—if they wish to get their business through at this hour they must ask for permission through the ordinary channels. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of some conversation he had had with a right hon. Gentleman on my left. In future, when he wishes to get these Orders through let him ask for permission to do so from the Opposition through the ordinary channels, and not adopt towards the Opposition an attitude which is a mixture of aggressiveness and discourtesy.


You never have any other attitude.

Commander WILLIAMS

I have no particular objection to this Order, but there are one or two points on which I should like more enlightenment. It is quite clear that this Order is to meet an exceptional case, but I would like to ask whether there is any likelihood of similar Orders having to be issued. [Interruption]. It is a very serious point. It may concern people in a great many towns, and if hon. Members below the Gangway do not choose to look after the interests of the nation that is no reason why others should not. It is quite conceivable that other places may be in the same position as Bootle and Liverpool. Plymouth and Devonport may be, or Edinburgh and Leith.


Edinburgh and Leith are one city now.

Commander WILLIAMS

I know they are one city, but exceptional circumstances may arise there, and I think the hon. Member ought to be very careful, or he may be let down. It would be a terrible position if he should be left in the dark and could not say anything. I really would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Order knows if there are any similar cases likely to arise. Another point I wish to know about this very, very curious Order is whether the Govern- ment have taken the advice of the Law Officers to see whether this is really good law or not. I know that the Law Officers are not here; they very rarely are. As it seems, on these occasions, that there is always someone to step into the breach, I wonder if the Secretary of State for War could step in?


I am already one foot in.

Commander WILLIAMS

The right hon. Gentleman says that he has already put his foot in it—at least I conclude that that is what he said. But I do think that the House is entitled to an answer to the two questions—firstly, whether any similar cases are likely to arise; and, secondly, whether the Government have consulted the Law Officers.


The zeal of the hon. and gallant Member for Torquay (Commander Williams) for light at this hour of the morning in 1929 is amusing. If that zeal fox light had been exhibited, as it was not, in the debates of 1926 and 1927 when his own Government was passing an Act in regard to which this Order seeks to remedy one small anomaly, then I could understand his attitude; but he is not entitled to talk now. He did not make his voice heard in the darkness of 1926. I would like to add that when the matter of finance is discussed no one has ever denied that you can spend £24,000,000 without doing someone some good. The argument is as to how much better the money could be spent in such a way that it would do most good.

Commander WILLIAMS

Is the hon. Member in order in discussing the merits of the De-rating Act?


I should say not.


I do not mind how long this discussion goes on because I have lost my last tram, and, unlike the hon. and gallant Member for Torquay (Commander Williams), I have not a Rolls-Royce. I only wish to say, in conclusion, that this desirable light is very belated on the part of the Conservative party.


In answer to the two questions that have been asked, I desire to say that we do not know of any other such anomalies in the Acts, but, if such a one be discovered, we will bring up a similar Order. Now, as to whether a legal opinion has been given to us on this matter. It has, and I will read it: There is grave doubt as to whether the conjoint effect of the Local Act of 1921, the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, the Rating and Valuation (Bootle Water Rate) Order, 1927, and the Local Government Act, 1929, is that the water rate as levied in Bootle is a rate to which the Act of 1929 applies, and consequently there is grave doubt as to the extent, if any, to which the de-rating provisions of that Act apply to it, and, as a further consequence, there is grave doubt as to whether there is any loss of rates arising under the Act of 1929 which can be taken into account in calculating the new Exchequer grants provided for in that Act. Consequently, we have introduced this Order. Though, personally, I think the Act of 1929 is a grave misfortune for Liverpool, I do not think that Bootle, of all county boroughs, should be made to suffer inequalities.


I wish to thank the hon. Lady for the very clear way in which she has dealt with this point. It was for such cases as this that there was put into the Act the provision giving the Minister power to remove difficulties that were bound to arise. I am also glad to see that the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) is at last getting a little light on this subject.

Resolved, That the Local Government (Bootle Water Rate) Order, 1929, dated the 26th day of September, 1929, made by the Minister of Health under Section 130 of the Local Government Act, 1929 (19 and 20 Geo. V., c. 17), for the removal of difficulties arising in connection with the application of certain provisions of that Act to the city of Liverpool and the county borough of Bootle, which was presented on the 29th day of October, 1929, be approved.