HC Deb 26 July 1957 vol 574 cc791-5

Lords Amendment: In page 1, line 13, leave out from "drain" to "and" in line 14 and insert: situated in a building or structure which it serves".

11.15 a.m.

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if we could take at the same time the next three Lords Amendments, in page 2, lines 4, 6 and 7, which all follow the same point.

These four Amendments are designed really as drafting Amendments to meet a point which has been put to us recently by the associations of water undertakings. The associations pointed out that the Bill as drafted might not cover trunk water pipes in certain circumstances which we had intended should be covered. For example, when a pipe goes through a junction box, which is a structure, it might be held that it was thereby excluded at that point from the purposes of the Bill. Similarly, it might be held that a trunk water main running from a reservoir to a waterworks was not included in the Bill. The purpose of the four Amendments, taken together, is to clarify the point and to make quite clear that it is the intention that water mains are in those circumstances included in the Bill.

Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)

With the substance of the argument put forward by the Minister I am in entire agreement and there is certainly no question of the Opposition contemplating dividing on this point. I should, however, like to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that in proposing the Amendment he is doing something which, I should have thought, would at least have caused him to have doubts had he considered its effect.

It is proposed to leave out in or under a building or structure The matters that we are considering in relation to that point are 'any sewer or drain". In our many meetings in Standing Committee, we obviously all considered that we would be doing very well in thinking that there were certain things which were in a building, certain things which were under a building and certain things which were outside a building.

I know that logically it can be said that anything which is not inside a building must be outside it, but the Minister will, I am sure, be the first to agree that doubt is caused when one is thinking of a sewer or drain which might conceivably be almost centrally situated immediately below the foundations of the building. Such a situation was completely covered before the Amendment was introduced, but now there is at least doubt about it.

I do not want to be facetious, but I would say that if at the time when the late Mr. Crippen was charged he had said that he had buried the body outside the house, he would have given an entirely wrong impression of what he had done, since the body might have been centrally situated below the foundations and within the four sides of the house.

The position is further complicated a little by a decision made in 1915 under the London County Council (Tramways and Improvements)Act, 1913, when the late Mr. Justice Avory had to decide what was the position in relation to passengers who were travelling on a tram. Prior to and in 1915, most of the trams had open tops. Later on, they all had covered tops. The interesting position which had to be decided by Mr. Justice Avory revolved around the point whether a person who was clearly inside the tram but was sitting on the top deck was for legal purposes outside the tram, since were the top deck not covered, he would, for legal purposes, be regarded as being outside it.

My point in putting these observations to the Minister is that one should be very careful indeed from the drafting standpoint in thinking that "inside" or "outside" concludes the matter, and that when thinking of sewers and drains one should remember that these in particular are things which are likely to be under buildings. When that has been so clearly said throughout all stages of the Bill, it is a pity that at this stage it should have been interfered with.

The substances of the Amendments which have come from another place could have been accepted while retaining the expression "under", and then there would have been no ambiguity at all. As it is, it is conceivable that the matter would have to be decided by a county court judge and that an attempt would have to be made to bring this provision within another subsection, when I think it is the intention of all of us that it should come within this particular subsection. I think honour will be served as far as the Opposition is concerned if the point is made and the matter is left on the record. I do not know what the Minister can do at this late stage in the proceedings, but this is something which he should certainly examine, though I agree that the proposal which he has put before the House should be accepted.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

I think we can truly say that the Amendments now under discussion considerably improve the Bill. We made an attempt during the Committee stage to secure some improvement and some clarification of what was in the mind of the Minister and his Department. These Amendments, particularly the first one, will add to the clarification of the meaning of the Bill, because be it remembered that we are dealing not only with modern houses in mining areas, but also with houses which are situated either in rural areas or in semi-rural districts. When we examine the drains leading to these places, we are sometimes amazed how they work. I think we can safely say that the Amendments are a considerable improvement.

Mr. Maudling

In reply to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), must say that the intricacies of the drafting are rather beyond me, but I can assure him that the point he has made has been considered. I think I can give him an assurance that we do not expect that any confusion will arise.

Question put and agreed to.

Further Lords Amendments made: In page 2, line 4, leave out from "descriptions" to "that" in line 5.

In line 6, leave out "any such services as aforesaid" and insert gas, electricity, water, heating, telephone".

In line 7, after second "services" insert being either works situated outside any building or structure or works in the nature of mains situated in a building or structure in which they neither begin nor end;".—[Mr. Maudling.]

Lords Amendment: In line 24, leave out "for any reason" and insert it is certified by the Minister, on an application made to him by any other person or of his own motion, that in his opinion".

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The House will recollect that in Clause 1 (3)it is possible for the National Coal Board to make a cost of works payment instead of doing remedial works in certain circumstances, and these circumstances include, as is set out in paragraph (iii)of the subsection where for any reason it is not in the public interest that the Board should themselves execute the remedial works…". It was argued very strongly by the Opposition, both in this House and in another place, that a question of the public interest should not be decided by the courts, but should be decided by the Minister. It will also be within the recollection of the House that I argued very strongly against that, because it would involve a great deal of expense in the Minister holding a special hearing. The House will be glad to know that we have been able to overcome the difficulty of the expense, or rather of a special hearing, and that this can be done quite simply by the Minister giving a certificate on application by either side.

Mr. R. Williams

It has been rather a long road to achieve this concession, but I think that it would be churlish of me if I did not acknowledge that at last the Government have moved and that the way in which they have expressed the point is one which gives complete satisfaction to this side of the House.

Mr. T. Brown

It came to my mind while listening to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is an old saying that wise men sometimes change their minds, but fools never. Here we have an indication of a change of mind on the part of the Parliamentary Secretary, who was vigorously arguing at an earlier stage that we should not place the responsibility on the Minister. The hon. and learned Gentleman has now agreed to do exactly what we wanted the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister to do. Here again, this is a considerable improvement in the Bill. I hope it will not unduly increase the duties of the Paymaster-General.

Question put and agreed to.