HC Deb 26 April 1961 vol 639 cc568-70
Mr. Willey

I beg to move, in page 14, line 28, after "a" to insert "similar".

This is a small point which becomes obvious on reading the Clause, which says: This section does not require a drainage board to consider any petition or publish any notice of a petition—

  1. (a) if it has received a petition under this section within the period of ten years immediately preceding the making of the first-mentioned petition…"
We think that it would be better if the word "similar" were inserted here to define "petition".

Mr. Vane

There was a good deal of discussion on the Clause in Committee, because we wanted to be fair to both the drainage authorities and to individuals. We had to guard against the authorities having to deal over and over again with petitions drafted on largely the same grounds. We wanted to ensure that drainage authorities had some assurance of continuity, because big drainage works cannot be planned and carried out if areas are to be frequently changed.

Some hon. Members felt that the ten-year period would work hardly and might mean that some people would for some time suffer a feeling of grievance if they could not petition for some differential drainage rate proposal because there had been another petition over a period of ten years.

The Amendment does not meet the point. We have to bear in mind that a drainage board is not precluded from doing what it thinks is right and proper simply because it has not received a petition. Therefore, except at ten-yearly intervals, it is not prevented from doing what it thinks is right on its own, or from carrying out a responsibly made suggestion. All we have said is that this procedure of petition, which is a considerable safeguard to individuals, shall not be resorted to time and time again in such a way as to make the administration of the drainage boards difficult.

We considered the suggestion of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), but we concluded that it did not meet all the objections, because if a tiresome person set his mind to it, he could produce petitions, if not annually, then at very short intervals, which could not be excluded on the ground that they were similar, but which would have the same object in view. We felt that a ten-year period was not unreasonable, because when this procedure is used, proper notice has to be given and a petition does not slip through without all those concerned knowing about it. This is not something which is done on the quiet between the petitioners and the board. Those concerned with these matters will notice that a petition has been made.

My right hon. Friend has put down an Amendment which we shall shortly be considering and which we feel would be a protection to the individual ratepayer in certain circumstances. I should like the House to agree that the addition of the word "similar" here does not meet the objective. It does not protect the drainage board from tiresome petitions repeated at short interval, which could not be described as similar and which attain the same object on the same grounds. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that drainage boards want to do their work responsibly. They will not remain entirely inactive unless forced to do something by the process of petition. We have to leave this to the good sense of drainage boards and leave the petitioning procedure, which is a formal procedure to which great publicity is given, as something which cannot be called into use too often.

When the Bill as it is now drafted is read in connection with my right hon. Friend's Amendment, I think that hon. Members will feel that we have provided a better protection for the general run of ratepayers than the hon. Member's proposal, although I appreciate what he has set out to achieve.

Mr. Willey

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that generous acknowledgment of my objective. Although I am not absolutely satisfied, I recognise that there is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman has said. For that reason, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Vane

I beg to move, in page 14, line 31, to leave out paragraph (b) and to insert: (b) if it has, within that period, by an order made under the said section twenty-four, divided its district into sub-districts or varied or abolished any sub-district; or, This Amendment is a protection to the ratepayer. It prevents a drainage board from taking action on its own by small varyings of the fraction of the differential rate and so ruling people out from petitioning. As the Bill stands, it is possible for a drainage board to vary its fraction when dealing with differential rates, that is to say, to make minor changes and a consequential arrangement so that things work harder for the drain-This is a complicated point will see that I hope that hon. Members it is designed to give the individual drainage ratepayer wider rights than he had under the original draft and, therefore, that it will be acceptable to the House.

Amendment agreed to.