§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I beg to move, in page 3, line 26, to leave out from the beginning to the word "the" in line 31.
The words which I desire to leave out are words which limit or direct the county councils and county borough councils as to whom they should call on to the catchment board. These catchment boards have large powers of levying money. They can raise money in three ways—either from the national Treasury, or from the internal drainage boards, or by precept from the county councils and from the county boroughs of the counties. They have the spending of the money that they raise, and they decide what money they require. The check upon extravagance on the part of the catchment boards is the indirect representation of the county councils and the county boroughs on the catchment boards. The catchment, board is composed as to two-thirds of representatives of the counties and county boroughs, and so as to one-third of representatives of the internal drainage boards. I would call the attention of the House to the fact that, the more money they raise from the internal drainage boards, the less they will need from the county councils, and, therefore, it is justifiable to retain control over the catchment board by the county councils and the county boroughs, in order to prevent the ratepayers being unduly bled by the catchment board.
Therefore, it is extraordinarily important that we should have on these 73 catchment boards people who do represent the people who are going to pay the money, that is to say, the ratepayers. Two-thirds of the members are taken from the county councils, leaving out the county boroughs for the moment, as they are the subject of a subsequent Amendment, which proposes that not more than one-half of the members selected by the county councils and county boroughs shall come from the county boroughs—who represent the big ratepayers—and one-half shall come from the county councils. These people are the watchdogs of the ratepayers, and I maintain that it is undesirable to stipulate specially in an Act of Parliament that the county councils and county boroughs, in making their selection, should appoint:as far as practicable ….persons having a practical knowledge of land drainage.That does not mean the people who dig the drains. The agricultural labourer has no ghost of a chance of being on these committees—[Interruption]—because he has not what is called practical knowledge, and also because he is not at present on the county council. The people who have practical knowledge are the land agents for the landlords of agricultural land. Why should we direct county councils, which are Conservative enough by nature, and, as it is, are sufficiently filled with the importance of the agricultural interest—why should we direct them more particularly to select that class of people which is almost inevitably selected at the present time by the county councils?
If you were to say to the county councils, "Please elect on these catchment boards just those people who will be most interested in spending money"—because, if they are interested in land drainage, they will naturally want more land drainage—there might be something to be said for it, but there is nothing to be said for saying that to a county borough, which has not on its own body any people who know specially about drainage and are interested in spending money on drainage. I would have these catchment boards, Which are the only safeguard for the ratepayers, as representative of the ratepayers as possible. I object fundamentally to their being indirectly elected; I think they ought to be directly elected by the ratepayers; but, if they are to be indirectly elected, 74 for goodness sake let there be a chance of their being composed of people who are expert in saving public money, and not of people who are interested in spending money in this way. I do beg my right hon. Friend to consider whether, without spoiling his Bill, he cannot just rectify that little piece of padding in it, which is quite unnecessary and which, as I think, directs the attention of the county councils and the county borough councils away from the principal duty of these catchment boards, which is that of protecting the ratepayers from unnecessary extravagance.
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
One can quite appreciate the anxiety and desire of my right hon. and gallant Friend to take steps to prevent the money of the ratepayers being unnecessarily and unwisely spent, but I think I can assure him that by deleting these words he will be running a greater risk in that direction than if they are retained. The House must remember that this Bill provides for the establishment of drainage authorities on a national basis. In some districts they will be new bodies, and it is desirable as far as possible to retain all the accumulated experience that has been gathered in the past by people who have been carrying on this work. That, really, is the purpose of the Bill, and I remember that, when the Royal Commission was discussing this question, the point was emphasised that it would be a mistake and a most undesirable procedure if, in the establishment of the new authorities, due regard and attention were not paid to the fact that in some districts there are men of very great experience in regard to land drainage, and that it would be a mistake if their experience and assistance were not utilised on these new authorities. The very purpose of this Clause as it is drafted is to use experience whereby economies may result. If people have to deal with this question who have no knowledge of it beforehand, they are much more likely to make mistakes than people with accumulated experience. Therefore, I suggest to my right hon. and gallant Friend that the Clause as it stands is more likely to achieve the purpose he has in mind than it would be if these words were deleted.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
The speech of the hon. Gentleman is very interesting, but it 75 does not seem to me to be particularly clear on the point. I should imagine that most of these schemes for land drainage and catchment areas would be the work of civil engineers. They would be the advisers, and not the particular gentlemen who may be selected from any particular owning class. I cannot conceive of any body of persons of a lay character being permitted to undertake any large scheme involving the expenditure of public money without being advised by expert civil engineers—men who have devoted a very large part of their time to such matters, and have become really expert on the technical and engineering side. I should imagine that they would be the persons who would be responsible for the plans, because I assume that plans would have to be drawn up, and that it would be upon those plans and upon the engineering opinion tendered by the experts that the bodies responsible would in the main have to come to decisions. Generally speaking, in British administrative life, such bodies are not overcrowded by experts, but they are at any rate bodies of persons who are responsible for coming to decisions on the advice tendered to them by experts. It seems to me that in the main it is far safer to trust to the actual engineering expert than to the layman who is called an expert, and who may have various interests to serve quite apart from the interest of the ratepayers themselves.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
I hope that the House will not accept this Amendment. I think that the whole Clause dealing with the constitution of these catchment boards does not admit the importance that ought to be attached to people who have been engaged for the whole of their lives in drainage operations. The whole Clause, in my judgment, and the whole foundation of these boards, is not just to the rural districts. Two-thirds of the members are to be appointed by the county councils and county boroughs, with only one-third from the internal drainage boards, and that upon the advice of the Minister. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Amendment seemed to be afraid that the urban districts would be called upon to pay the piper and would not be able to call the tune. If you get a catchment board established almost exclusively 76 from the urban population, you not only may have men on it who do not really understand the job of draining land, to the exclusion of experts, but you are also giving the urban representatives the power of levying rates upon the rural population to any extent, and you are excluding the rural population from the representation they are entitled to. I think the Clause ought certainly to stand as it is. It ought not to be weakened any further.
I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman should object to the words remaining in the Sub-section that there should be due regard given to the desirability of including, as far as practicable, among the members appointed by them persons having a practical knowledge of land drainage. In my district the drainage authorities have done their work exceedingly well, and I am not going to give way to the statement that any urban representatives upon a catchment board would perform their duties better than they have done in Lincolnshire. We have large drainage rates to pay and, when the new catchment boards are constituted, there will still be rates to pay, and rather than weaken the Clause, there should be a larger representation of the rural areas.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
I oppose the Amendment and support the Minister. I have had a great deal of experience of drainage boards, both small and large, and I know the value to be attached to members who understand drainage. This new catchment board will be given certain powers of control over internal drainage districts. If we are going to be controlled in our internal districts by a supervisory board, we want to understand that the controlling board is composed of men who have a real knowledge of land drainage, and for those reasons I support the Minister in resisting the Amendment.
§ Sir WILLIAM WAYLAND
I also support the Minister. One of the weaknesses of local bodies having to deal with problems of which they know nothing at all is that they are entirely in the hands of their experts, but that is quite different with internal drainage boards. Every member of the board of my district has a practical knowledge of drainage. I am confident that, if they were 77 replaced by men from urban districts, not only would the work cost more but a lot more work, perhaps unnecessary work, would be done. This catchment board will be amply representative of the urban districts. The county councils will see to that. Therefore, I do not see that there is the slightest necessity for the Amendment, which would only weaken bodies which to-day are very efficient and which, we hope, will be equally efficient in the future.
§ Mr. EDE
I hope by this time the right hon. Gentleman is feeling thoroughly uncomfortable. The whole of the support he has received has come from the other side of the House, apart from his hon. colleague by his side. I cannot help feeling that the principle that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (ColonelWedgwood) proposes to remove from the Bill is a thoroughly unsound one. It ought to be removed from all measures relating to local government. The accepted principle to-day is that men of commonsense control the experts, and that people putting up for local governing bodies are selected, not for their expert knowledge, but because of their sound common sense, and because of the belief on the part of their constituents that they can use that to control the tyranny and the enthusiasm of the experts. I regret that my right hon. Friend cannot allow these catchment boards, which are going to deal with big schemes and not little ones, to be constituted by the county councils and the county borough councils by allowing them to send their best business men for local government purposes on to the boards without asking that they shall have had some practical experience in the past of this Particular thing. They will have to employ engineers and experts of the highest possible class, and we should make sure that there will be a sufficient strength on the catchment boards of common sense people to restrain the experts from extravagance.
§ Mr. ALPASS
I support the Minister, though I am the first to do so from these benches. I do it because of some little experience I have had as a member of a county land drainage committee. I am not suggesting that others have not had that experience, but their points are met by the Clause. It does not suggest that there shall be any compulsion 78 in appointing these members, and that they shall all be persons who have had practical knowledge. We are appointing catchment boards responsible for the carrying out of very important work. Anyone would imagine that it would be desirable that, amongst the persons to be appointed to do this very important work, regard should be had, as far as practicable, to including some amongst them who have had practical knowledge of the job. The criticism that I have most often to meet against some of the proposals which hon. Members and myself are advocating is that they would rule out men of experience. Now we are endeavouring to make sure that some of them will be included. I hope the House will allow the Clause to stand.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
I am not always in a position to support the Minister but in this case I most certainly can. It is obvious that, when you are setting up boards, you must have men of practical experience, though they need not be experts. That is the line that the county councils take as far as they can.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
I beg to move, in page 3, line 33, to leave out from the word "area," to the end of the sub-section.
I think it would be better to leave these words out. If they remained they would lead to complications. You would have bodies squabbling amongst themselves whether they had the proper representation that they ought to have. The county council, in making their ch[...] will give consideration to the point [...] out it being actually laid down in there words.
I beg to second the Amendment and to ask the Minister whether consideration has been given to the point, as was promised in Committee.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I beg the Minister not to accept this Amendment, because it is in exactly the opposition direction to the one we have already had. The representation on the catchment boards should be strictly according to the amount contributed by the various districts. This would mean that the people 79 who get the benefit of the expenditure will be represented and those who find the money will not.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I understand the hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Amendment were both on the Committee, and they have put the Amendment down as a sort of echo of the discussions we had upstairs. On the whole, I think it would be better to leave the words as they are.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I think we ought to have a slightly more detailed explanation. The actual amounts paid by urban and rural districts are not alike. Urban districts are rated at a third in some cases. I understand, however, that in a catchment area that is not so. I have no very great objection to these words remaining in, but I think the Minister wants to watch the working of this, because it may cause a great deal of unfairness in some districts. This is one of the many cases in which an amending Act will be required, and I look forward very shortly to this Government, if it remains in power, bringing in an amending Act to correct a great many of the anomalies that are foreshadowed in these words that the Minister is insisting on putting in.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I beg to move, in page 4, to leave out lines 1 to 12.
The effect of this proviso is that the number of members of a catchment board appointed by the Councils of County Boroughs shall not exceed one-half of the aggregate number appointed by the Councils of Counties and County Boroughs. If the county boroughs are going to pay far more rates than the county councils, they ought to have a larger share of representation. That is one of the old fundamental principles, that those who find the money should call the tune. This proviso is directed intentionally to put an end to that, and to provide that the county councils shall have more than their fair share of representation. If the urban councils are to pay the money, they ought to have their fair representation on the board. The Association of Municipal Corporations made representations on this point to the Royal Commission, and the Royal Com- 80 mission, in their report, recommended that representation on the board should be in accordance with the contributions of the locality. The House should remember that we are only talking now of two-thirds of the representation of the catchment board and that one-third is there by reason of the fact that it represents the internal boards, the existing boards engaged in drainage operations. If the boroughs contribute three-quarters of the new rates levied by the catchment boards, I cannot understand why they should not be entitled to have two-thirds of the representation. This Measure as an Act will be weighted in every step in favour of the landlords of this country, and it is unfair upon the county boroughs that they should not have an adequate voice upon the one authority which is left to protect them from extortionate demands upon the ratepayers.
I wish the House to realise that this Bill is going to put at least £250,000 a year upon the ratepayers of this country. All these 50 boards will have a paid chairman, their members will be paid, they will have a staff, and offices will require to be built. When I say £250,000 I am probably under-estimating the annual charge upon the ratepayers of this country. All the work could very well be done, as in the case of electricity and other things, by joint boards from boroughs and county boroughs. We are to have this entirely new and expensive administration superimposed upon the country, and it is, therefore, all the more important that we should see that they have every incentive for saving money instead of having every incentive for spending money. If they represent the purely agricultural districts, the agricultural areas which will benefit by land drainage, and the people who have to pay the money are not represented on the boards, there is going to be extravagance, and there will be complaints from the ratepayers which will come as a shock to any Government which goes to the country on the strength of having introduced these proposals. The matter should be left as provided for at the bottom of page 3, to the effect thatas respects the members of a catchment board to be appointed by councils of counties and of county boroughs, the number to be severally appointed shall be such as the Minister may determine by the esti- 81 mated amounts of the contributions to be made by those councils respectively towards the expenses of the board.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am sorry that I cannot accept the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend. I appreciate his point that the people who find the most money should have the greatest share in calling the tune, but at the same time I think that he overlooked the facts of the case in this particular respect. It may be—I dare say that it will be—that in some cases the county boroughs inside the catchment area will be the most highly rated part of the district. On the other hand, there will be several cases where this will not be so. There are many catchment areas which have not any county borough at all.
§ Dr. ADDISON
There is a great variety of catchment boards. You have also to remember that you may have an area where there may be one or two wealthy county boroughs but where a vast extent of the low-lying land may be subject to inundation. It is obvious, therefore, that you ought to secure good representation. Not only those who pay, but those who incur the risk should have a voice in the matter as well. In order to keep a fair balance between these conflicting interests, the provisions embodied in the Bill were arrived at. Originally, the figure was greater. The present proposal is a compromise which has been arrived at, and I think that on the whole it is a fair compromise considering the variety of catchment boards and the different interests necessarily involved.
§ Lieut. - Colonel ACLAND - TROYTE
Once more I come to the support of the Minister, although I would prefer to see "one-third" instead of "one-half." We want to have people on these boards who understand the work which is to be placed upon them. Members of a borough council have nothing like the same interest in this question as members of a county council or a rural district council. Therefore, you want to have as large representation of county council and county districts as you can possibly obtain. It is curious to observe that the right hon. and gallant Member 82 who moved the Amendment put the objection to the counties exactly the other way round. We as counties are afraid that boroughs will force vast expenditure upon us and will use the Act as a means of relieving unemployment and not so much in the interests of drainage. I can foresee a large amount of expenditure. We think that we have not received sufficient representation of the lowland districts. Another interesting feature which I noticed about the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was that he said that those who found the money should call the tune and that the representation should be in accordance with the amount of contributions to be paid. That is a most peculiar doctrine to come from the Socialist benches. I wonder he did not bring that argument forward on the Finance Bill regarding Super-tax. If that argument applies in this case, surely it ought to have applied in the other case. I hope that the Minister will stick to this Sub-section, that I shall be allowed to move my Amendment later on, and that he will accept my proposal that the representation of the county boroughs shall not in any case exceed one-third instead of one half.
§ Mr. McSHANE
I desire to support the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend. I should like to point out that, as the Bill stands at the moment and assuming an arbitrary number of 36 members on the board, the county boroughs will only be entitled to representation at the maximum of something like 12. It will be noted that the Clause does not say that they shall have 50 per cent. of the representation, but that it shall not exceed one-half. The Minister spoke of those who pay and those who incur risks. Up to this moment, I have always thought that the person who had to pay was the one who would settle the amount of the risk. In this extraordinary case we are getting people to incur risk at the expense of those who will have to pay. I do not want the Minister of Agriculture to bring in a new form of extremism with regard to expenditure of money in rural areas. If one section of the community is to be allowed all the risk of spending all the money they wish and another section is to be allowed the privilege of providing the money, there will not be harmony in the operation of these boards.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
I wish to emphasise the point which I put previously. I do not agree at all that in many parts of England the county boroughs will be called upon to pay the larger sums of money required. In many parts of the country it will be the rural population who will have to pay drainage rates. The catchment boards will have the power of precept upon the internal drainage boards and to say that the county boroughs should have more than half of the aggregate number of members to be appointed by the county council and the county boroughs is to ask for the county boroughs a larger representation than they really deserve, or, in some cases, desire. After all, as well as having to pay for drainage, we have to have men who understand the job in order to see that we get decent schemes. In my judgment, you get more expert men in land drainage from the rural districts than you do from the county boroughs, and whether the representation is one-half or one-third it will in many parts of the country, be distinctly unjust to rural districts. I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed so that it will be possible for them to have more adequate representation.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I am afraid the hon. Member for Holland-with-Boston (Mr. Blindell) does not appreciate the Amendment. It is to delete the two provisos which lay down a definite number so that the Minister should be guided by subsection (3) and that the members of a catchment board to be appointed by councils of counties and of county boroughs should be such as the Minister might determine having regard to the contributions to be made. It might be 50 per cent. or it might be more.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
As I understand Clause 3, the proportion of members to be elected by the county councils and the borough councils is two-thirds, and the Bill, as it stands, says that of that two-thirds not more than half shall be appointed by the borough councils. I understand that the Mover of the Amendment wants to make it possible for the county boroughs to have the power of holding more than half of that two-thirds and this would be an unjust representation of the county boroughs.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I would agree to the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant 84 Friend on the principle that those who find the money should call the tune. I want to congratulate him on moving this Amendment. It is only a few days ago that he and another hon. Gentleman opposite were doing their very best to support the power of the county council against the boroughs and borough councils in my Division. Now that they are coming round to see the viciousness of their own doctrine, I am prepared to support my right hon. and gallant Friend in this Amendment. I think there is no gainsaying the fact that in Staffordshire, where there is a great submerged area, most of the rates will be placed upon the county boroughs. They will certainly have to pay most of the money, for the area concerned has been an eyesore for years. In any case, whether they have to do so or not, I think that the matter should be left, as stated in Sub-section (3), to the discretion of the Minister, having regard to the amount paid by the councils respectively.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
I beg to move, in page 4, line 5, to leave out the word "one-half," and to insert instead thereof the word "one-third.'
I have said all that I need say about this Amendment. I consider that the proportion of the representation should be one-third and not one-half.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am afraid that for the reasons which I indicated previously I cannot accept the Amendment. This matter was discussed for a good many hours and the provision in the Bill is a compromise. I must point out that my hon. Friend overlooks the question of risk. It is not the man who pays for the Old Age Pension who always enjoys the benefit of it. You must have regard to the risk of those living in widely scattered county areas.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I would like to scotch the argument about risk. It is not a question of the risk which is being entered into by the drainage of these areas. If those areas are not drained, the land owned by the landlords alongside the river is of low value. Directly the money of Stoke-on-Trent and the other boroughs is spent upon draining the land, 85 it is not a question of risk for the landlord but a question of how much he is going to benefit.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
I desire to take up this question of risk in the case of this particular Amendment. We have had it laid down most clearly and definitely from the other side that in this matter the only way in which to have fairness is that those who actually pay the money shall call the tune. That is a doctrine which is absolutely sound. In common fairness, no one can contravert it in any way whatever. If this Amendment were accepted, it would assist matters enormously. I con- gratulate most humbly and respectfully the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) on having made a contribution to this debate which, although unique from him, at any rate is valuable. He said that in this particular respect those who actually find the money should have the entire manipulation of it. I think that those who support this Amendment have a very good case, and I hope that the Minister will give further consideration to it. If my hon. Friends desire to go to a Division on it, I shall most certainly support them, because I think the substance of this Amendment will enable a curiously unstable sort of Bill to be made more stable, and I think any Amendment which makes the Bill even slightly better is one which the House itself should be willing to accept.