HC Deb 26 April 1961 vol 639 cc564-8
Mr. Vane

I beg to move, in page 11, line 34, to leave out "their area" and to insert the internal drainage district. In Standing Committee, it was represented that the original wording of the Clause imposed a duty on the river board in these circumstances to publish notices in newspapers circulating beyond the area where they were relevant, which was the area of the internal drainage district and not the area of the river board as a whole. The Amendment, which certainly interprets the feeling of the Committee upstairs, will, I am sure, meet the feelings of the House this evening.

Amendment agreed to.

Dr. Stross

I beg to move, in page 11, line 37, after "county," to insert "county district."

There is importance in the Amendment and I sincerely hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will accept the change that we propose. Earlier today, on Recommittal, the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend made good the promises that were made in Standing Committee by introducing Amendments in the First Schedule, page 31, lines 31 and 33, to add "county district."

Clause 20 (3) gives drainage ratepayers and counties and county boroughs the right to appeal to the Minister about the amount specified by the river board or because the river board has not exercised the powers which it has. None the less, as it stands subsection (3) gives no such right to county district councils. It may be that the Parliamentary Secretary will argue that the reason it is not given is because, as it stands, the Clause gives drainage ratepayers, on the one hand, and precept paying authorities on the other, the right of appeal.

If the Parliamentary Secretary says that, may I beg him to consider a further point which is that the county councils, in their turn, precept upon the district councils, and it is for this reason that I am appealing to the hon. Gentleman to add the words "county district" so that it, too, may have the right of appeal.

My argument is something like this. There are a number of counties where part of the county which is within the area of a particular river board is much smaller than the area of the county as a whole, and a special county rate is there made and is precepted upon the county districts which lie in that part of the county which is in the river board area. I am sorry that this sounds complicated, but it is really very obvious.

In these circumstances, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will follow me here. The county council as a whole is not so deeply concerned with the local district problems. This fact is very well known to people who serve in areas like these, and it is not easy to get the county council to show much enthusiasm even when it turns its attention to these problems. But the problems are, none the less, serious problems.

These are the reasons why I feel that only good can come from adding the words "county district" so that it, too, shall have the right of appeal.

Mr. Vane

This is a rather complicated point, and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) was correct in anticipating the greater part of my reply. What we are dealing with here—I say this for the benefit of those hon. Members who were not in the Committee—is the fact that river boards maintaining drainage districts will be able to make contributions to or acquire contributions from the funds of the district. County and county borough councils have a direct financial interest in the allocation of funds from internal drainage boards to river boards, because river boards obtain a large part of their income from precepts on counties and county boroughs. Therefore, it is right that they should be able to appeal to the Minister against a resolution of a river board relating to an internal drainage district which it administers.

That is the problem with which we are concerned, and the hon. Member was quite right when he said that when the Bill was drafted it gave the right of appeal in those circumstances to this sufficient number of qualified persons, the people actually paying the rate from their own pockets, and the county or county borough wholly or in part in the river board area since the river board has to make some precept upon them.

I think that we must set some limit to the number of authorities which have rights of appeal under these circumstances. It is not a very big point. We thought that the right thing to do, generally speaking, was to give the right of appeal to the authorities which had the biggest financial interest in the ratepayers themselves. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment, because it seems to me to be rather adding an elaboration where really there is no great justification for it. I see his point, and I think it a perfectly reasonable one to bring before us again.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Willey

If this is a reasonable point, one would expect it to be accepted. What I was expecting to hear was whether anyone had opposed the proposal in the Amendment. I assume from the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) moved it that there is influential support for it.

Dr. Stross

Hear, hear.

Mr. Willey

I assume that the Association of Municipal Corporations would welcome such an Amendment. Has anyone made representations against it? The Joint Parliamentary Secretary's view is that it is reasonable. In those circumstances, I should have thought that it would be better to accept the Amendment and so provide that this part of the county should have this right of representation.

Mr. Vane

Perhaps I was unwise to use the word "reasonable". The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) was reasonable and it was a point to bring forward and discuss, but I think it is more reasonable to leave the Bill as it is. We have had no great representations on the point, and I can assure hon. Members that the Bill as drafted follows the precedent of the 1930 Act which dealt with a similar problem in the days of the independent drainage boards. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment.

Dr. Stross

I am broken-hearted that so late at night we cannot get anything from the Joint Parliamentaory Secretary. It is too bad. After all, he and his right hon. Friend gave exactly this point when we were dealing with the risk of flooding as a result of obstruction in streams, when we argued that it was the district which was near the point of danger; and thus that provision has been inserted in the Bill.

Here we are dealing with a matter where honour is affected. District councils do not like to be precepted upon by county councils and then told that they will have no opportunity of an appeal such as the county councils have. There was substance in my point that in these special circumstances as I illustrated them a great authority like a county council does not tend to show much interest in or enthusiasm for local problems of this type.

I do not demand of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary a yea or nay necessarily just now. There is still a little time; the Bill will go to another place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) suggested, great thought has been given to this matter by the Association of Municipal Corporations and it has discussed it at the Ministry and it thinks it important. In view of that, I still beg that further consideration should be given to the subject before the Bill is looked at in another place.

Sir D. Glover

I thought that my hon. Friend would have accepted the Amendment. Take the case of the Lancashire County Council. On the seaward side of the county there are river board areas. On the landward side there are many industrial constituencies which return members to the county council. Honestly, they know very little about land drainage and could not care less. The people who understand the problem are those in the actual district where the problem arises.

The Amendment would not make a great change in status. There are not all that number of county district authorities. It would mean only that there would be a greater sense of justice. I hope even now that when the Bill goes to another place my hon. Friend will reconsider the matter, because I am sure that we should improve the Bill if we gave county districts the right to make a protest.

Amendment negatived.