HC Deb 07 February 1949 vol 461 cc50-7

Amendments made: In page 3, line 21, leave out from "premises," to "it," in line 23, and insert "to which this section applies."

In line 27, after "premises," insert "such as aforesaid."

In line 32, leave out from beginning, to "entered," and insert "to which this section applies and which are."

In line 41, leave out from "premises," to "partly," in line 42, and insert "to which this section applies and which are occupied."

In line 43, after "shall," insert "subject to the provisions of Subsection (5) of Section fifteen of this Act."

In line 44, after "dwelling," insert "house."

In line 45, leave out from "the," to "in," in line 46, and insert "remainder of the premises."—[Mr. Woodburn.]

Mr. Woodburn

I beg to move, in page 3, line 47, at the end, to insert: (4) This Section applies to lands and heritages being premises occupied wholly or partly as a shop, offices, a warehouse, factory, cinematograph theatre, theatre, town hall, dance hall or concert hall, and such other premises not being premises occupied wholly as a dwelling house or such premises as are mentioned in the last foregoing section or in either of the two next succeeding sections of this Act as the local authority may from time to time resolve. On Second Reading my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) raised the question of the extension of the privilege of the domestic rate being levied on one half to one quarter of the gross annual value. He suggested that there were certain categories to which this provision ought to be extended. In Committee other hon. Members also put down Amendments, in addition to the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh, and it may be recalled that these were withdrawn on the promise that I would give further consideration to the proposal.

We discussed the matter with the local authorities and we realise that there may be other circumstances and other categories which ought to be included, but we thought it would be a mistake to try and search for every conceivable circumstance in which a hall outside the category mentioned ought to be given this privilege. We have therefore drafted the Amendment in such a way as to cover those which were mentioned on the Committee stage and also to give local authorities a discretion to include such other cases where it might appear suitable or convenient to them that the concession should be granted. The Amendment is therefore drafted to include points which were made, plus a concession to the local authorities to extend the privilege where suitable.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I have one question to ask on this Amendment, and on this occasion I am not questioning the use of the word "premises." The Amendment says: This section applies to lands and heritages being premises occupied wholly or partly … Why not say: Lands and heritages occupied wholly or partly"? A little later the Amendment says: Such other premises not being premises occupied wholly as a dwellinghouse … Could we not say: Such other premises not occupied wholly … Is this sort of repetition necessary?

Mr. Woodburn

With permission, perhaps I may say that I have a little longer experience than the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and I have not yet reached the position where I can give an explanation why a Parliamentary draftsman drafts legal phraseology in certain terms. I think the hon. and gallant Member would not ask me to explain why, in drafting legislation, it is found necessary to include these words. We have confidence in our Scottish Parliamentary draftsmen and I think we must rest assured that if the words are there they are necessary for the purpose of making the Amendment clear.

Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison

The Amendment includes premises used for purposes of indoor entertainment or recreation. Would it not be desirable to add places like ice rinks? A number of burghs in Scotland have them. Perhaps the Secretary of State would consider that the necessary Amendments should be made in another place. It would be better to do that rather than to leave it to regulation by the local authority.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

I raised this matter, as my right hon. Friend has said, on Second Reading of the Bill, and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking him for having gone into it and for bringing forward this Amendment. I must say, however, that I think that some of the premises specified in this Amendment, and others of which we can think, would have been better included under Clause 5. Certain mines and quarries I have seen use a very substantial amount of water, whereas there are certain halls, of the sort most of us must have seen, in small villages and even in towns where very little water seems to be used at all. I should have thought, therefore, that my right hon. Friend might have included some of these under Clause 5. However, that consideration apart, I should like to express my appreciation of what my right hon. Friend has done to meet us on this matter.

The Lord Advocate

My hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) and the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) have raised individual points. Let me direct their attention to the fact that there is discretionary power vested in the local authority to include in this category any other types of premises they think fit. The particular types of premises to which reference was made were, in my opinion, typical of the types of premises which should be left to the discretion of the local authority. To take the illustration of the ice rink, I am not at all satisfied that an ice rink does not consume a great amount of water. If, on the other hand, it does not, then, perhaps, the local authority is in the best position to judge.

Mr. Willis

The point that I made was not that they are embodied in Clause 4, where they are included in the Clause levying the domestic water rate and the half water rate, but the fact that none of them is included in Clause 5. There is no discretion about that at all. They must all be levied at half the water rate. Consider warehouses, for instance. How much water is used in warehouses? In some none is used at all from year's end to year's end. I should have thought that some discretion might have been given to the local authority, on appeal from the person or persons concerned, to have them included in that Clause.

The Lord Advocate

If my hon. Friend will look at the proviso to Clause 4 (1) he will see that, in relation to any of these premises, the local authority has the power to down grade the fraction from a half to a quarter; so we are leaving it entirely to the discretion of the local authority. Let us return to the question of the very much overworked word "premise." Let me point out to the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) that it is used for ease of drafting, for ease of cross reference, so that we do not have a cumbersome string of words to define the premises to which this generic term refers. If he will look at the Amendment again he will see how the ease of drafting is obtained by using this generic term. The word "premise" comes in there: premises occupied wholly or partly as a shop, offices … and such other premises not being premises occupied wholly as a dwellinghouse or such premises as are mentioned in the last foregoing Section or in either of the two next succeeding Sections … Throughout this part of the Bill the word "premises" is prefixed to the description of the differing types of subjects, and cross reference to those types of subjects is made easier by referring to "such premises" in the particular part. It appeared in the Clause as originally drafted, and I must say, in all sincerity, that I cannot see any point in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's objection.

Commander Galbraith

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, I should like to draw his attention to the fact that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) was not in this case referring to the word "premises" but was referring to words which he thought were altogether unnecessary for inclusion in this Clause. However, the difficulty I have here is this. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember, we had a very full explanation from the Secretary of State as to what this Clause meant, and then we found that the Secretary of State really did not know—or so it appeared—whether the words in the Clause really meant what he had said. I should like an assurance from the Lord Advocate, as the senior Law Officer for Scotland, that what the right hon. Gentleman did say was the meaning of the Clause is actually the meaning of the words in the Clause.

Colonel Hutchison

I apologise in advance if I am discussing something which has been discussed already. As there have been so many Committees to attend, and as it is impossible to be in more than one place at one time, this matter may have been clarified when I was absent from the Committee on this Bill because I was attending another Committee. The right hon. Gentleman has taken special powers in connection with factories, warehouses, and premises, and so on, here. Where such premises have been rated and are liable to pay for water supplies, are the same premises entitled to demand to be supplied with water to their full need? The two go together. Is it automatic, because a firm has been rated and has to pay the water rate, that it can demand to be supplied with water to meet its requirements, however great they may be?

Mr. Rankin

I wonder if the Lord Advocate will clear up one point here? The reference in the Clause is to the "local authority." Does the expression as used here refer to the "local water authority" or to the "local authority," as we usually understand the term? If it refers to the local authority—and I think it does—then the Bill gives local authorities power to vary their rateable value in a way which may result in a saving of expenses which may have to be borne by the supplying authority. My right hon. and learned Friend should make clear the specific interpretation that we should attach to the expression "local authority" in this Clause.

Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)

There is one point to which I should like to draw attention, and that is that the effect of the Amendment on Subsection (2) is to give factories now an option which they did not possess as the Clause was previously drafted. I am a little worried about the effect on the finances of the local authorities of this provision, and I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give the House a little more information regarding it. Very often, of course, at the present, a minimum charge has been fixed by agreement between the factory and the local authority, and it may be that that minimum charge is quite substantially above the half—let alone the quarter—of the gross annual value, as specified in this Clause. Is the effect of this Clause to wash out that agreement? Does it mean that whatever the past agreement has been on that subject as between the factory and the local authority for the minimum charge, that that agreement falls if that minimum charge is higher than the half of the gross annual value?

The other point is this. Assuming that the minimum charge is equal to a quarter of the gross annual value, which I assume would be the practice in future, I cannot see that there can be any objection whatever to anyone exercising an option to take their water on a meter charge, because that would mean that they would have to pay more. I think that as the Clause stands the whole matter requires a little further explanation. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman indicate what the position is as regards existing agreements and how the inclusion of factories under Subsection (2), which were not previously included, affects the situation?

The Lord Advocate

With your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I would say that I think that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) was confusing the situation in respect of the domestic water rate and the trade water rate. This Clause deals only with the domestic water rate. The agreements to which he was referring were, in my opinion, agreements in respect of trade water. Therefore, that particular problem does not arise. I could not quite follow his argument to the effect that we were now incorporating factories which had not been incorporated before. If he will look at Clause 4 (1), he will see in the forefront that it refers to: lands and heritages being premises occupied as a shop, offices, a warehouse, or a factory.

Mr. Macpherson

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will look at line 32, he will see that factories are specifically omitted.

The Lord Advocate

The fact remains, of course, that the overriding provisions of the Clause cover factories. Therefore, I do not see where the difficulty arises so far as the hon. Gentleman's argument is concerned if he distinguishes between the supply of domestic water and the supply of trade water.

The hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) raised the question of the right of supply, but there again I am not sure that he was not confusing the supply of trade water and domestic water. I think that he was particularly concerned about the supply of trade water.

Colonel Hutchison


The Lord Advocate

The trade water supply is provided for in the principal Act of 1946 under, I think, Section 11, whereby provision is made that a local water authority shall give a supply of water on reasonable terms and conditions for purposes other than domestic purposes to the owner or occupier of any premises within the limit of supply who requires them to give that supply to the premises, provided that they shall not be required to give such a supply if they cannot do so in view of their existing commitments and obligations. I think that meets that point.

The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) asked who was the determining authority. The determining authority there will be the particular authority in whose area the premises are situated. If they are being supplied from outside by another supplying authority, under the later provisions of the Bill a formula is worked out whereby there will be a gross assessment of the liability due to the supplying authority for the water supplied by them. Therefore, the determination will be by the local resident authority and not necessarily by the supplying authority. If there is any injustice suffered as a result of that rateable decision, further provision is made in the Bill for the equalisation of the amount, about which my hon. Friend knows, and, accordingly, it is left to the local authority in which the premises are situated to determine whether or not this particular advantage should be given to any particular set of premises.

Amendment agreed to.