HC Deb 07 February 1949 vol 461 cc38-44

(1) Where any main is laid alongside and within sixty feet of the middle of a street, then, for the purposes of the definition of "communication pipe" contained in subsection (1) of section eighty-four of the principal Act, the land in which the main is laid, and any land between the main and the street shall be deemed to form part of the street, and references in that definition to the part of the street in which the main is laid, and to the boundary of the street in which the main is laid, shall be construed accordingly:

Provided that where the premises supplied with water lie between any such main as aforesaid and the street, only that land in which the main is laid together with any land between the main and those premises shall be deemed to form part of the street.

(2) Where any main is laid as mentioned in the foregoing subsection, the power of the local authority to lay service pipes, stopcocks and other fittings under paragraph 7 of the Third Schedule to the principal Act shall include power, with the consent of every owner and occupier of the land, and subject to payment of compensation for any damage done by the authority, to lay such pipes, stopcocks and fittings in, on or over any land which is deemed to form part of a street for the purposes specified in the foregoing subsection.

(3) Any consent required for the purposes of the last foregoing subsection shall not be unreasonably withheld, and any question whether such consent is, or is not, unreasonably withheld shall be referred to and determined by the Secretary of State; and any dispute as to the amount of compensation to be paid under the last foregoing subsection shall be determined by arbitration in the manner provided by section eighty-three of the principal Act.

(4) For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that the provisions of subsection (3) of section twenty-eight of the principal Act (which subsection relates to the vesting in the local water authority of communication pipes) apply to any pipe laid before the commencement of this Act which, by virtue of this section, is deemed to be a communication pipe.—[Mr. Woodburn.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

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

It is with some satisfaction, after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) that I am in a position to give him further pleasure in moving this new Clause because, on the Committee stage of the Bill, he put down an Amendment which was very largely to the same effect as this new Clause. At the time, we were inclined to reject it because our information was that the practice of laying pipes parallel to the street and not in the street was not sufficiently prevalent in Scotland to justify the Amendment being included in the Bill. We promised to look at the matter again, and here also, after consultation with the local authorities, we decided that, while it was not a very common thing in Scotland, there were sufficient cases to justify us including such a provision in the Bill. I am therefore happy to be able to say that the proposal of the Amendment originally moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Galloway, should be included in the Bill.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

Before we accept this new Clause, which I am glad to see, and at the risk of enraging the Lord Advocate, I want to raise again the question of the wording, and it is not "ballyhoo" in which I am going to indulge. We had some discussion in Committee on the word "premises," and we were told that it was necessary to use this word, which does not occur in the lexicon of Scottish law, in order that the Bill should tie up with the United Kingdom Bill. A feebler case I have never heard, and I cannot understand why it should be insisted upon. The fact is that the original Bill should have been divided between Scotland and England and Wales to form two separate Acts. This Clause is one of the signs of stupidity in having a Bill which should have been divided as I have suggested, because we have to use a non-Scottish legal phrase in order that the Bill should tie up with the main Act.

This is a perfect example of the difficulties which may arise as a result of the Government not accepting what we have been saying for a long time, not for purposes of advertisement or "ballyhoo," but solely in order to preserve Scottish interests in a matter of law. I hope the Lord Advocate will be able to give us a little more convincing argument why this has been done, because in this case the original Act referred to for England and Wales, the Local Government Act, 1948, is obviously wrong in its foundation.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Perhaps the learned Lord Advocate will also extend his indulgence to me when he is giving his interpretation to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan). The Clause refers to the boundary of the street. Do I understand that the words "street" and "road" are the same in Scottish law in actual practice? It would seem invidious that this Clause should apply only to streets, and it seems possible that roads may be excluded?

Mr. McKie

I only rise to express my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for having met me almost entirely regarding the Amendment which I put forward on the Committee stage. I think the further we go in the discussion of this Bill, both in the re-committal and now on Report, we illustrate the fact that the Conservative Opposition in Committee did make a good job of their task, because we now have the right hon. Gentleman moving two Amendments which are directly concerned with the well-grounded suggestions which we put forward upstairs. I think I am justified in making that remark by what has happened since.

These Amendments will certainly give great satisfaction to local authorities in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman attempted a slight gibe at me in the Committee upstairs for asking that he should bring Scotland completely into conformity with the law of England. I see him enjoying himself now because there appears to be some difference of opinion between my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and myself on this point. I listened carefully to what my hon. and gallant Friend said, and I hope that, although I was responsible for a similar Amendment in Committee, and although I am supporting the new Clause, he will not accuse me of being anxious too slavishly to follow the law of England and Wales. I approach this matter with an open mind, and I ask myself, as I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will ask himself, what will be the best for Scotland. If we can be satisfied that what we are doing will prove beneficial to Scotland, I feel certain that my hon. and gallant Friend, with his long experience of administration, will agree. This will make the task of the local authorities easier. We are always being told that we are to envisage a new Scotland, and so we have these Amendments, which will certainly make things easier with regard to the planning of new towns. That was the point which I had in mind when I moved a similar Amendment in Committee.

The point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) about the use of the words "street" and "road," and he seemed to dislike the idea and thought that there might be some confusion of terms. I see my hon. Friend nodding assent to what I am saying. As a dweller in the countryside, I should dislike very much the idea that the road which runs past my house was to be designated a street. There is always more jealousy from the rural areas than there is from the urban areas on that point. On the other hand, I suppose my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh would object if Princes Street were to be designated a road. I want to know whether the lane which runs past my house can be designated as a street, because I should object to that.

Sir W. Darling rose——

Mr. McKie

My hon. Friend and I seem to be at cross-purposes on this subject, but I join with him in hoping that the Lord Advocate, that great luminary of Scottish law, will be able effectively to clear up this point. If he cannot clear it up to the satisfaction of both of us—and I do not suppose he can, because we hold opposing views—I still hope that the matter can be set at rest. I am credibly informed that the County Council of Selkirk—I am sorry that my noble Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord W. Scott) is not in his place—which is one of the smallest local authorities in Scotland, has been doing this very thing for some time. I do not know whether the County Council of Selkirk envisage a large new town development in their area, but the south of Scotland has always been in the van of social progress. With those few words, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has been good enough to do, and I hope that the Lord Advocate will clear up what may be a small point but, like many small points in Scotland, might lead to very far-reaching differences of opinion.

4.0 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not at variance or in disagreement with the substance of this Clause at all, but merely with the verbiage contained in it.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. John Wheatley)

It is with some hesitation that I intervene in this private quarrel of hon. Members opposite. I was pleased to hear the initial assurance given by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) that the remarks he proposed to make were not going to be of a certain character. However, I was disappointed when I listened to his subsequent remarks because the hon. and gallant Gentleman, if I may say so with respect, has obviously not taken the trouble to ascertain what exactly is meant by the use of the word "premises." Likewise, the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) has not taken the trouble to ascertain the definition of the word "street," as, otherwise, he would not have asked the simple and elementary question which he posed.

The use of the word "premises," as explained in the Committee stage, was invoked, first of all, to give an easy descriptive generic name to the various types of premises to which this Bill referred. The word "premises" prefixed the description of subjects of varying natures in different parts of the Bill. The word "premises" is not foreign to Scottish law; it is not a word which is "not even in the Scottish lexicon. "As I informed the Committee, and now inform the House, it was defined in the 1946 Act, which is the principal Act and which has to be read along with this Bill. It was not new even then. Hon. Members will find a statutory definition of "premises" in Scottish Bills as far back as 1897. Therefore, there is nothing new in the use of the word. We have given it a specific definition in the principal Act of 1946, and, if for convenience of drafting, the use of the word is justified, then I cannot for the life of me understand the grievance of the hon. and gallant Member in that we have used this particular word. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh asked what was meant by the word "street."

Sir W. Darling

I asked whether the word "street" used in the new Clause had the same meaning as "road." I was anxious that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as is his duty, should inform me as a member of the public what his Clause meant.

The Lord Advocate

If the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to look at the principal Act, which is the basis on which——

Sir W. Darling

That is no part of my duty.

The Lord Advocate

If the hon. Gentleman feels that it is no part of his duty to read the principal Act on which this Bill is based——

Sir W. Darling

It is the right hon. Gentleman's Bill.

The Lord Advocate

—then, of course, we could spend the whole day and night trying to instruct the hon. Gentleman in the knowledge which he ought to possess before he criticises the Government in respect of this Bill.

Sir W. Darling

Is it in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to charge me with being unsuitable for my duties because I have no knowledge of and training in law?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said nothing of the sort. He said that the hon. Gentleman had not adequately prepared himself to take part in this Debate, which I think was in Order.

The Lord Advocate

For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, may I point out that the definition of "street" includes any highway, road, lane, footway, square, court, alley or passage, whether a thoroughfare or not. I think that is sufficiently comprehensive to cover even the lane along which the fairies run at the end of the hon. Member's garden.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Does that definition include a vennel?

The Lord Advocate

I should think that if a vennel is an alley or a passage, it would be included.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.