HC Deb 07 March 1934 vol 286 cc1972-6

"A rural locality for the purpose of this Act shall be any borough or urban district or any parish or contributory place within a rural district where the product of a penny rate does not exceed one hundred pounds."—[Mr. Turton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

12.6 a.m.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

First, I must apologise to the Committee that the new Clause is not in the same terms as that upon the Paper, which clearly would not have made very good sense. May I ask the Minister what "rural locality" means? I have been at some pains to find out whether the expression has ever before been used in any Act of Parliament. The learned Solicitor-General is here, and perhaps he will be able to enlighten us as to whether it is an entirely new phrase coined behind the scenes, as it were, or whether he has some authority for it. I find that wherever we have a similar phrase, whether it is "rural parish," "rural district," "rural industry" or "rural authority," it always means "within the area of a rural district council." and not outside it. I said "always." May I make one exception? I find in Stroud's Judicial Dictionary that there is one exception in law. I mean "rural dean." I believe that he is not bound within the confines of a rural district council, but I do not think that the Minister of Health can be guided by ecclesiastical law in the drafting of this Bill. I understand from the Parliamentary Secretary that this phrase "rural locality" means something similar to that which an hon. Gentleman mentioned in discussing the previous Amendment. The Committee will remember that on the Second Reading questions were addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary as to what was the exact meaning of the phrase. This was his explanation: Let me make the position plain. The Bill is designed to help the rural areas, whether in a rural district or, as we hope, in a smaller unit still, in a parish. If it happens that there is a borough with an outlying area which amounts to a small rural locality, then the borough will be able to make a claim under the Bill in respect of that smaller area. In our view, that will be a practical case. It is not our intention to help boroughs which can, for the most part, rely on their own resources. We are out to help those who cannot help themselves, but I can conceive the case of a large urban district or a large borough with a small rural village on the fringe of it, to which this Bill would apply. I hope that I have made that plain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1934; Col. 390, Vol. 286.] If that is the meaning of the phrase "rural locality" and if a rural locality may be a small parcel of ground within the large orbit of a borough, we can imagine that if Hyde Park wanted a water scheme—fortunately it has the Serpentine—it would be a rural locality in a borough.

I think that, unless the Bill is to give a large amount of employment to lawyers, this point should be made plain before it becomes law. I have drafted the Clause on the lines laid down by the Parliamentary Secretary in the phrase which I have read. He says that he wants to help those boroughs—and also, I suppose he would agree, those urban district councils—which cannot out of their own fianncial resources help themselves. The object of the Clause is to enable those boroughs and urban district councils whose penny rate does not bring in more than £100 to be called rural localities for the purposes of this. Measure. I do not think I am putting my case too high when I say that for example small urban councils in rural areas whose rateable value is as low as that are not industrial centres, but are really agricultural parishes that have perhaps become enlarged in course of time, or have grown up from ancient history, as small as some rural district councils.

The Minister will know how strange are the divisions as between boroughs, urban districts and rural districts. I myself remember the conditions before the Local Government Act of 1929 came into operation. There are in my constituency two of what I should call, from my country point of view, considerable towns, but what Members representing industrial centres would regard as no larger than hamlets. There are also other far smaller towns. It happens that my largest town is a rural district and my next an urban district. The larger of these towns has a population of 4,000, and only 20 miles away there is, outside my constituency, a hamlet with a population of 500, which is an urban district. My contention is that that town with a population of 500 would not be entitled to the benefits of the Bill as it stands. The line must be drawn somewhere, and I suggest that it should be drawn where the product of a penny rate is not more than £100. There is a great deal of work to be done in these localities. There is one in my constituency which would benefit considerably by the acceptance of this Clause. Without it I fear the Bill will exclude country towns where a good deal of work on water supply requires to be done.

If the Minister will accept the Clause, much gratitude will be extended to him from the township of Malton. I would ask him not to let this Measure be the subject of continuous litigation in the courts owing to want of clearness as to what is a rural locality. If I am right—I know that the Solicitor-General will correct me if I am wrong—in thinking that the term "rural locality" has never been used in an Act of Parliament before, it is only right and just that, when we are using it for the first time here, Parliament should give it adequate definition.

12.16 a.m.


I support my hon. Friend who has moved this proposed new Clause, and I do so from some little practical knowledge of the applications to the Ministry of Health with respect to these matters. The Ministry has at its command a highly efficient group of inspectors who visit the localities, make proper inquiries and investigate the boundaries and the position of parishes, urban and rural districts. A huge amount of indiscriminate interlap and overlap will take place unless these words are clearly defined. My hon. Friend has pleaded for the exact size and rateable value in respect of the groupings. I would go a little further and ask the Minister to give exact legal entity to the different groups of areas concerned. Many of us who appear before these inspectors know that inspector A will take one view and inspector B, of the same sort of facts, will take an opposite one. I appeal to the Solicitor-General to give us a lead on the matter, because it is going to be expensive, cumbersome and inequitable. If the words of the Amendment are not sufficiently applicable, I suggest that the Solicitor-General might make a correct adjustment.

12.18 a.m.


The Mover of the Amendment asked me what is a rural locality? The answer, in the words of the old saw, is that a rural locality is like an elephant, difficult to define but very easy to recognise when you see it. He says these are new words in an Act of Parliament. They are, because the class with which they deal is a new class created for the purpose of the Act, the class of a rural district plus some rural areas which may be included in urban districts, and for that new class which has not yet existed in any Act we want a phrase. There is no chance of any such litigation, which he and I would deplore, because there is no right in any area to a grant. It cannot claim a grant on the ground that it is a rural locality. It is in the discretion of the holder of the post of Minister for the time being. The effect of the Amendment would be, not to compel but to enable the Minister of Health to include many large and well-to-do urban areas, precisely those areas which it is our intention to exclude. What purpose could the Amendment serve? Only to hold out hopes to a large number of urban areas which there is no possibility whatever of being justified under the Bill. I do not think it would be a wise Amendment, add I trust that it will not be pressed.

Motion and Clause by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the Third time To-morrow.