HC Deb 07 February 1949 vol 461 cc44-50
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 18, to leave out from "unless," to the end of line 30, and to insert:

  1. "(a) in the case of a dwelling house a sufficient supply of wholesome water for domestic purposes is provided by a local water authority in pipes within the house or within the premises in which the house is comprised;
  2. (b) in the case of premises being agricultural lands and heritages a sufficient supply of wholesome water for domestic purposes is provided by a local water authority in pipes within some dwelling house comprised in the premises; and
  3. (c) in the case of any other premises a supply of water provided by a local water authority is used for any purpose for or in connection with which the premises are used or by or for persons employed or otherwise engaged on or about the premises in connection with such purpose."
Hon. Members will remember that in Committee my right hon. Friend undertook to reconsider this Clause before the Report stage with a view to making clear the circumstances in which the domestic water rate would be leviable. Indeed, I believe that the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) moved an Amendment which we discussed at some length in Committee, and which he withdrew on the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend. This Amendment is the result of my right hon. Friend having looked at the matter again.

Under the amended Clause, the occupier of a dwelling house will be liable for the domestic water rate if, for example, there is a supply of water provided by the local authority on the landing of the tenement stairs on which he lives, but not if he draws his water supply from a standpipe in the street. That means that we could easily have a house in a city like Edinburgh or Glasgow without a water supply actually led into the house, but if the water supply is laid on to the premises within the building in which the house is situated, and the occupier of the house has advantage of the water supply laid on by the local authority, then such occupier will be leviable for the domestic water rates.

Under paragraph (b) of the Amendment it is made clear that, in regard to agricultural premises, the occupier will only be leviable if the local water authority has laid on a water supply to some dwelling house comprised in the premises. Paragraph (c) is intended to cover all premises other than dwelling houses and agricultural lands and heritages, and is designed to cover, in particular, the case, which I understand to be fairly common, where a shop is without a water supply, but where the occpier draws water from a neighbouring shop with the consent of the local authority. That means that we could have a shop into which a water pipe is not laid, but where, with the consent of the local authority, the occupier has the advantage, and takes advantage, of a water supply laid on to an adjoining shop. Such an occupier would be leviable for the domestic water rate. I think that this Amendment clarifies the position which seemed during the Committee stage to be a little obscure, and I hope it will have the support of the House.

Commander Galbraith

The Under-Secretary is quite correct. I did raise this matter on the Commitee stage, and I hoped that we would be able to get a perfectly clear decision as to what was intended. What I had hoped, of course, was that no one would be chargeable with the domestic water rate unless he actually had water within his own house. Indeed, I thought paragraph (a) meant that, but now the hon. Gentleman tells us that if water is provided on the stairhead—and I suppose on a stairhead there might be three houses—then each of those houses will be chargeable with the domestic water rate. That is unfortunate because it means possibly a continuation of that practice which not one of us on this side of the House likes.

We want to see water in people's houses. I think it would have been preferable for the domestic water rate to be chargeable only where the water is actually in the house in question. However, the hon. Gentleman has cleared up the position. I thank him for the frank way in which he has done so and explained the position to us. In general, it means that unless water is actually in the house the domestic water rate will not be charged. That is the general implication.

I am not quite so happy about paragraph (b). The hon. Gentleman said that the domestic water rate would be chargeable if there was water supplied through pipes within some dwellinghouse. In the ordinary agricultural holding—lands and heritages, as we call them in this Bill—there is generally a farmhouse and possibly one or two farmworkers' cottages. Am I to understand that if water happens to be laid into one of those cottages, the domestic water rate will be chargeable upon all the dwellinghouses on the holding? It would almost seem as though that were the case. The matter is of some importance, because I know of numerous cases where one of the cottages happens to be adjacent to the main and the farmhouse itself is some distance removed from it. I want it to be made clear that this rate will not be chargeable upon buildings which are associated with the farm and used as dwellinghouses unless they actually have water supplied to them.

As to the other matter, here again I am disappointed. I do not like this idea of people being charged a rate when they are not receiving water. It is all very fine to say that the water is in the shop next door, as I understood the hon. Gentleman to say. Apparently, because it is in the shop next door, the rate is charged on the shop that has not got it. That seems to me to be wrong.

Mr. Woodburn

The people in that shop still use the water.

Commander Galbraith

Even so, unless that convenience is provided actually in the shop, surely the occupants of that shop should not be charged a domestic rate. It is the same sort of thing as the old lady going to the pump. The man in one shop has to take his bucket and walk round to the next shop to get a supply of water, and that does not seem to me to be the proper way to deal with this matter. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman can do about it now, but the principle should be that a domestic rate should not be chargeable unless there is water actually in the premises or in the dwellinghouse in question.

4.15 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)

I should like to know whether there are likely to be many cases in which the water supply is in one shop, and another shop is taking its supply from that shop. I should have thought that it was rather rare.

Mr. Woodburn

Our information is that this provision covers a large number of cases, especially in a place like Glasgow, where the water is not actually in the house itself but is attached in some way to the house so that it is available to that house. The pipe might be attached outside the house and not inside at all. It might be used not only for domestic purposes but for use outside the premises. In the case of shops, it is not the duty of the local authority to put the water in a shop, nor is it their duty to put the water into a house. It may suit the convenience of the people concerned not to lead the water actually into the house so that it can be utilised where it is most convenient. Take, for instance, a farm steading—a series of houses round a courtyard; the water may not be in any of the houses, but yet may be in the premises available quite conveniently for all these houses.

On the other hand, it may be attached to one house and it may be used by all the people from that house. It is a matter for the owner or the occupier, as the case may be, to decide whether it is convenient to bring the water into his house, but the fact that everybody is using the water supply would seem to require them to pay their contribution to the general rates. In a city like Glasgow it would mean a great loss and an additional burden on the other people paying the rates if these cases were excluded. It is for that reason that we ask the House to accept this Amendment. We appreciate the difficulties. We have had a great many headaches trying to find some way in which the matter could be put on the basis suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Lieut.-Commander Galbraith). This is the best we can do in consultation with the local authorities, and we trust the House will accept it.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)

Before this discussion is closed I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to be a little more specific about the case of which I have some experience—agricultural lands and premises where, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) pointed out, there is one cottage which draws its water supply from the local water system, and the remainder of the premises consisting of two or three farms and houses all have a private supply. Am I to understand from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that, because one cottage draws a limited supply from the local water system, which nobody else shares, the whole of the hereditaments and premises—the agricultural lands and buildings—will be drawn in to contribute to the rates although they do not get their water from that source?

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)

In my constituency, the town of Coatbridge, there are two streets where the tenants have no water at all; there is not even any water on the stairheads. They go out in the morning to a pump situated in the street, and they draw water from the pump if they are lucky. On a frosty morning they do not draw any water at all, and they have to go to their various occupations with faces which are more or less clean. I want to know whether these people will be charged a water rate under this Bill.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

I want to put a further point to my right hon. Friend. I can think of many cases such as he has described, where there is one water supply attached to a house. I am thinking particularly of smallholdings where there is a large house and several cottages, all attached, and where there is one water supply which is used by all the group of people in those houses. During the summer months these houses are mostly let to visitors, so that for a large part of the year they are not occupied at all. Does the Amendment mean that a domestic water rate will have to be paid for each of these houses, even though they are not in use for nine months in the year? Has any thought been given to providing a solution for this real difficulty, by fixing a minimum charge to be levied on the smallholder for his domestic water supply?

The Lord Advocate

May I deal with the various points which have been raised? Referring first to paragraph (a), I would inform the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) that the supply of water must be within the premises in which the house is comprised so that the pump in the street would not come within the ambit of this paragraph and people drawing water from that pump would not be chargeable with the domestic rate. Turning to agriculture, I ask hon. Members to read along with Clause 2, to which this Amendment refers, the provisions of Clause 3 (1). In Clause 2 (1) it is provided that there shall be a domestic water rate leviable by the local authority "in respect of all lands and heritages." Subsection (2) sets out the conditions on which that requisition can be made. The original Subsection (3) imposed a condition, which is now translated into paragraph (b) of the Amendment, to the effect that in the case of … agricultural lands and heritages a sufficient supply of wholesome water for domestic purposes is provided by a local water authority in pipes within some dwelling house comprised in the premises. That is a sine qua non of the requisition of a domestic rate. When we turn to Clause 3 (1) we discover that in assessing rateable value for the purposes of requisitioning a domestic rate on agricultural lands and heritages, one only takes into account any dwelling house or dwelling houses comprised in the premises and provided with a supply of water. Therefore, in the case adumbrated by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison), where there were a number of dwelling houses only some of which were supplied with water, those which were not supplied would not be brought into the computation in assessing the value of the premises.

Finally, the justification for paragraph (c) is that in some local authority areas shops and other business premises by arrangement sometimes draw a supply from another shop or business premises supplied on a water main. They are therefore to a large extent and for business purposes drawing the water supply of the local authority. It would be inequitable if these people, making such a call on the supply of water from the local authority, were to be exonerated from the responsibility of playing their part in the payment for that water. This provision therefore has been incorporated to deal with particular cases and, in equity, I think it is justified.

Commander Galbraith

With permission, Sir, I would say it is rather unfair, where a supply of water is on the stair head and where there may well be three separate houses, that the people occupying those houses should have to pay a water rate although there is no water in their house. I appreciate the difficulty, but this does seem to me to be a matter of injustice.

Amendment agreed to.