§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Noel Buxton)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The title of this Bill is calculated to whet the appetite of hon. Members who are keen to detect some injustice in the incidence of rates, and critics might hail the opportunity of strife if this were in fact a drainage Bill. The intending combatants are, I am afraid, doomed to disappointment, because this is not really a drainage Bill at all. The title is somewhat misleading, because it is a totally uncontentious proposal dealing solely with a defect in the method of election of drainage authorities arising from the recent Local Government Act. All the Bill does is to secure that there shall be continuity in the election of drainage authorities. There is no other point in the Bill. If hon. Members will look at Subsection (1), they will see the words:which requires any matter, other than the amount of any drainage rate.But for those words, it would deal with the incidence of drainage rates. It does, in fact, deal with only another matter, namely, the qualification for electors and electees on drainage authorities. I should like to explain the origin of the Bill. It is an aftermath of the legislation of 1403 the late Government. Drainage authorities have the option of rating either on annual value or on acreage, and they commonly use the rating on acreage, but, under the Drainage Act, 1861, as affected by the Act of 1918, they have an option. They may do their own annual valuation by themselves, or they may use the general poor rate valuation. The Local Government Act of this year abolished the assessments on agricultural land, and consequently something had to be done to provide another basis. Section 78 of that Act, therefore, substituted for rateable value, where the drainage authority was required to use the poor rate valuation, the assessment for Income Tax Schedule A. Following on that, the Ministry of Agriculture sent to all drainage authorities in the month of May a circular explaining the new conditions. There are about 370 drainage authorities. Some of them are based on extremely ancient Statutes. An hon. Member has just told me that he is on the board of a drainage authority, founded by King John; and many of the boards existed before Queen Elizabeth. Therefore, the replies from these numerous authorities brought to light very varying conditions. They showed a fact which was previously unknown to anybody, namely, that a difficulty had been overlooked in the passage of the Local Government Act. The qualification of electors has not been fully provided for, and therefore this Bill has become necessary to clean up the general process.
The qualification of electors is based as a rule on rateable value. There are a few cases, however, where it is not based on rateable value, but on the appearance of the ratepayer's name in the rate book. Those two cases are provided for by the two operative sub-sections of the Bill. There are, as far as is known to the Ministry, three boards in the latter category—the Ouse, the Welland and the Mole. Most of the electors in consequence of the Local Government Act would be disqualified from election. That is to say, the agricultural ratepayers would be disqualified. There would still be on the list of ratepayers persons qualified to elect who are not de-rated, but most of the electors would have disappeared by the disappearance of the rating list. Therefore Sub-section (1) provides that 1404 where the qualification is a certain minimum rate the qualification shall be the assessment under Schedule A. Subsection (2) provides that where the qualification is appearance in the ratebook, qualification shall arise from the list kept by the drainage authorities of persons liable to rating. That is really a complete explanation of the Bill. There are, I think, no points of principle or of any real interest in the matter, because it is purely a question of machinery necessitated by the recent Act.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I am very pleased that the Minister of Agriculture has made an apology that this is not a Drainage Bill, and has explained that it really makes remedies only in respect of rating and de-rating and the provision of assessment for Income Tax. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will see his way in the autumn to introduce a Drainage Bill which will absorb over 300 odd drainage boards into one great drainage scheme—a National Drainage Board. We have heard a great deal this afternoon about pictures and of £106,000 being spent upon them. If £106,000 were spent on drainage we should have some good pictures put before us in the shape of good crops of wheat, oats and various products, and supplies of livestock. Those are the pictures that we want to see in the country districts. We want to provide work for the people and to produce food for the nation. I do not wish to oppose this Bill, but I hope the Minister will promise that at no distant date he will bring in a real Drainage Bill in order to do some good.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I also am glad that this Bill does not constitute a proper Drainage Bill. There was a good deal of doubt about the matter when this Bill was first introduced in another place. Some people thought that this was, possibly, the only effort which the Government intended to make towards a solution of land drainage problems this Session. We hope very much from the indications which have been given that the Government really do mean to make up their minds to bring in legislation to deal with the proposals of the Royal Commission of 1927 dealing with land drainage. I understand that the Government are pledged to do something of that sort, and we in the country certainly look to 1405 them to fulfil their pledges. As far as this Bill is concerned, it is, perhaps, a necessary amendment in regard to the Local Government Act which could not have been foreseen. But if the Government consider that they have fulfilled their pledges by introducing a Bill called "Land Drainage" they will certainly find that the country does not agree with them. We call upon the Minister of Agriculture to fulfil the earnest desire of the people suffering from waterlogged land in the country for these bad conditions to be put right. There is one point which I should like to ask the Minister to make quite clear. There are certain boards which are not elected on the ordinary rateable system. For instance, there is the case of Commissioners elected upon Courts of Sewers. There are, of course, varied cases of that kind. Does this Bill do anything to alter the system? Does it bring the whole system of the election of commissioners on Courts of Sewers into one category? I think the Minister made it clear that the Bill only dealt with certain specific cases which were altered by the Local Government Act. Does it alter any election to Courts of Sewers which are not dealt with in this Act?
§ Mr. N. BUXTON
In reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage), the Bill has no occasion to deal with the method of election of Commissioners who do not require that there should be a qualification for electors. I need not tell my hon. Friends that the need of drainage is very present to our minds. You would rule me out of order, Mr. Speaker, if I pursued that matter, and all I can say is, that it is having the most earnest consideration of the Government.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. N. Buxton.]
§ Bill accordingly considered in Committee, and reported, without Amendment; to be read the Third time To-morrow.