HC Deb 25 May 1950 vol 475 cc2284-9

(1) The appropriate authority may enter into an agreement with any person at whose instance a cattle-grid has been or is to be provided in pursuance of this Act, or any other person willing to make a contribution towards expenses of the authority under this Act, for the making by the said person of such a contribution (whether by a single payment or by periodical payments) of such amount as may be specified in the agreement and either towards all expenditure of the authority under this Act or towards such description of such expenditure as may be so specified.

(2) An agreement under this section may contain such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the parties thereto expedient for the purposes of the agreement, and in particular such an agreement providing for a contribution towards the cost of installing a cattle-grid may provide for repayment of the contribution, to such extent as may be specified in the agreement in the event of the cattle-grid being removed.

(3) In determining whether or not to provide a cattle-grid in pursuance of this Act an appropriate authority shall be entitled to have regard to the extent to which persons who in the opinion of the authority will derive special benefit from the provision of the cattle-grid are willing to enter into agreements under this section.—[Mr. Barnes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Barnes

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

The House will remember that in Committee we had a discussion on the need for highway authorities to receive contributions from persons who were interested in the establishment of cattle-grids. In this Clause I meet all the points then submitted. As a matter of fact, the Clause goes further than the original Amendments because it contemplates agreements not only with persons responsible for the maintenance of the road but also with those who may wish to have the grid installed and who have an interest either as landowners or farmers as the case may be.

Sir A. Hudson

I should like to thank the Minister for meeting the three Amendments which this new Clause covers and which we discussed at some length on the Committee stage. It may seem ungrateful for me to say so, but I wonder whether the new Clause is not perhaps a little wider than we contemplated. Under my new Clause and the two Amendments, all in pretty well the same words, we contemplated only unclassified roads, whereas this new Clause makes the provision of assistance towards paying for these grids available in the case of a trunk road, a first, second or third class classified road. Probably it may not make any difference, but when we put down our Amendment we were thinking merely of unclassified roads.

Another point, which is perhaps more important, is that we tried to impose a ceiling of some kind on the amount which should be given to assist in paying for these grids—a ceiling of one-third. I think some figure might be given. For instance, I do not think we should expect those assisting the appropriate authorities to pay more than half.

Subsection (2) of the new Clause says: An agreement under this section may contain such incidental and consequential provisions as appear … to be expedient. Could the Minister say what was in his mind there? I am not quite sure. It deals, of course, with the case of repayment, which was raised in another Amendment, to anybody who has contributed towards a grid, when the appropriate authority removes the grid; and we are grateful for that. On the whole, I think the Clause should assist in providing the greatest number of grids, and that is what we have been after all the time. I welcome the Clause and thank the Minister for introducing it.

Mr. Barnes

In connection with subsection (2), the hon. Member will recall that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory) raised the point that any person who had contributed towards the installation of a grid should be protected if the grid were removed. Subsection (2) has been inserted to meet that point.

Sir A. Hudson

That is the second half. In the first half it says: An agreement under this section may contain such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the parties thereto expedient for the purposes of the agreement…. and then it goes on, and this is the point about which I am not sure— and in particular such an agreement providing for a contribution….

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

I fully agreed with the first speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson) because I think this Clause goes a good deal further than was asked by my hon. Friends in the Committee stage. In Committee I am afraid that I had to adopt a slightly different line from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North, on this point. I want the Minister to keep this in mind—there may be very many owners of land—and it is especially the case in Scotland—who are not in a very good financial position. I am sure the Minister well knows that. We do not want to see them placed in even more awkward financial straits. I am sure my hon. Friend completely concurs in that sentiment and, indeed, he said that some kind of protection should be given so that not more than 50 per cent.—I think that is what he had in mind—should be demanded from those people.

Perhaps it may be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to clarify the position when the Bill reaches another place. I feel even more strongly on the point than does my hon. Friend because I can think of many cases in Scotland where people who, if they were called upon to provide large sums for cattle-grids, might be very seriously embarrassed. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree with me, for he knows a great deal about Scotland and knows that there are certain cases in which hardship would arise, unless there is some kind of clarification of the amount they will be called upon to find.

I should like to buttress what I have said by reminding the Minister that when the Bill was first mooted, even before it was produced before the House for the first time, the County Councils' Association in Scotland was seriously disturbed because they had heard a rumour that, as a result of the Bill, private individuals might be seriously embarrassed having regard to the amounts of money they might be called upon to provide. It turned out, of course, that their fears were largely unfounded, because when the Bill was first printed there was not this provision with regard to private individuals which this Clause seeks to introduce. For those reasons, I hope the Minister will take action on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend. I assure him there is no partisan feeling in this Committee. In the words of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, we are acting as a Council of State and the one desire is not to obstruct but to make the Bill a better one, and certainly not to cause hardship to any class of individuals.

Mr. Hay

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson). I am a little puzzled by part of the Clause, and I should be grateful if the Minister would say something about it. I am referring to subsection (3). I have looked several times at the form of words and I find them incomprehensible. Would the Minister give us some explanation of what is intended? It may be he has the key which will unlock the door, but at the moment I cannot see any daylight at all.

Mr. Barnes

Subsection (3) is designed to enable the highway authority to take into consideration the amount of contri- butions they are going to accept before they undertake to instal a cattle-grid. I would point out to the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) that there is no compulsory aspect to this Clause. It will all be subject to negotiation between the highway authorities, and if it is subject to such negotiation I do not see the need to put on any limitation. That was the reason why it was stated that the Clause, as now drafted, is wider than the original Amendment.

Mr. McKie

But surely the Minister will agree that private individuals have not the same rights as highway authorities. There is no protection for them, and they might be in a position of not having very reasonable complaints considered.

Mr. Barnes

This Clause has been drafted to meet points that were submitted to me in the Committee stage, and one point was that a highway authority might receive contributions from persons who were interested in providing a cattle-grid which they might not instal on their own responsibility. Why widen the new Clause to restrict the freedom of negotiations between the local authority and the persons concerned? There is no compulsion for them to agree to 50 per cent., 25 per cent. or any other figure. It is a matter to be covered by agreement.

Mr. McKie

I was only thinking of the non-occupying owner. He is the person about whom I am concerned.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The right hon. Gentleman has answered two of the points raised from this side of the House, but he has still to answer the first point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), who wanted to know what was meant by the first two lines of subsection (2) which reads: An agreement under this section may contain such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the parties thereto expedient for the purposes of the agreement.

Mr. Barnes

I take it that that is to cover the details of the negotiations that cannot be defined in the Bill at this stage. It may be the character of the work and all kinds of issues like that, which might arise in negotiations of this kind and which cannot be fairly stated here. Those words are put in simply to give the parties to the agreement freedom of negotiation on any matter that might arise in connection therewith.

Question put, and agreed to.

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

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