HC Deb 26 April 1961 vol 639 cc525-46
Mr. Willey

I beg to move, in page 2, line 19, after "that", to insert: there is a special need for additional drainage work in".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It may be convenient with this to take the Amendment in page 2, line 20, leave out "require" and insert "requiring".

Mr. Willey

I think that they go together.

We are now returning to a subject raised in Standing Committee. I remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), in moving an Amendment, gave by way of illustration a dramatic case of run-off, but that was a matter which we were discussing earlier. The issue between us now is that of implementing the agreement upon which the Government based the Bill. Paragraph 2 of the Appendix to the White Paper, which gives the Text of the Agreed Principles, says: When a River Board considers that there is a special agricultural need, it may put forward to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food proposals for a special charge on agricultural land outside internal drainage districts. We are again trying to persuade the Government to write these words into the Bill. I still cannot see why the Government have not been able to accede to what seems a reasonable and necessary request. I shall be frank and repeat what I said in Standing Committee, which was: I agree that there is no sanction to enforce this, because it depends upon what appears to the river boards, but the river boards will conscientiously carry out their duty, and it is for the Government to put them into a position where they can conscientiously carry out their duty by writing in here the terms of the agreement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 8th December, 1960; c.152.] I concede that we are not providing anything which would impose a sanction. We are trying to be fair to the boards and to see that they are called on to do what it was understood they were called upon to do by the agreement itself.

When we discussed this in Standing Committee there was support from both sides of the Committee. The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said that this surely was not a point which the draftsmen would have difficulty in meeting. He shared out view that this was a point which might well be met. He was dealing with an Amendment which we are not discussing now, but I am sure that he still shares our view that this is something which could well be met by the Government and that, in fact, there are no draftsmanship difficulties about accepting it.

The right hon. Member, who was supported by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), expressed himself more dogmatically than I would. The right hon. Member went on to say later, in reply to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary: He says that we are not fighting about a big thing, but we are. We are fighting for a Parliamentary principle—the principle that the Act should follow the White Paper."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 8th December, 1960; c.157.] I should have thought that on this matter the Government have had time to reconsider the position. I would not suggest for a moment that the Government gave any undertaking that they would do more than reconsider it. We are now asking them what reconsideration they have given to it and why they have not been able to accept the proposal we made to make it quite clear that they patently accept the agreement upon which the Bill was based.

For these reasons, I hope that the Government will be able to assure us, either that they are willing to accept these Amendments or, alternatively, that there are special technical difficulties which prevent them from following a course which otherwise, I am sure they ought to take. I put forward these Amendments hoping that the Government will either accept them or convince us that they are not Amendments which could be accepted because of difficulties of draftsmanship.

8.45 p.m.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

If I may say so, the argument of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) is a little specious. If he really wants to implement the terms of the second paragraph of the text of the agreed principles in the White Paper, he could not have found a much worse way of doing it than this. The moment he changes the emphasis from agricultural needs to needs of drainage he at once runs contrary to the agreement which was agreed by all the negotiating bodies.

It took a very considerable time to reach that agreement. If we were to accept the Amendment in which he puts the needs for drainage above agricultural needs, inevitably we should be playing straight into the hands of those river boards—I think they are very few, but, nevertheless, there are some—which will be anxious to do everything possible for purely drainage reasons without much regard for agriculture. I do not want to argue the case one way or the other for the moment, but I want to stress as strongly as possible to the Minister that the wording of Clause 3 as he has it is far more nearly a full implementation of the second paragraph of the text of the agreed principles than this Amendment would be. For that reason, I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist the Amendment.

Mr. Turton

For once I must disagree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). What the Amendment is actually doing is putting into the Bill, rightly or wrongly, the words of paragraph 20 of the White Paper, which reads: Where there is a special need for additional drainage work in the interests of agriculture, the river board would be empowered to put forward… It may be that my right hon. Friend's predecessor put into the White Paper wording which could not be implemented in an Act of Parliament. I see the difficulty which has always faced my right hon. Friend, but I think it a very dangerous principle for this House to embark upon to have consultations with all interested parties on legislation, to agree with them what legislation they think will be agreeable to all the parties and to publish a White Paper laying down what that legislation is to be, and, later, to introduce fresh proposals in statutory form and put them before Parliament.

Quite clearly, there is a great deal of difference between what is in the interests of agriculture and what additional drainage work is in the interests of agriculture. In other words, as drafted, this Clause could be used by the river boards to impose a levy upon agriculturists for work that is now being carried out by the boards without the special levy.

When we debated this in Standing Committee I thought that my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary had admitted that there was force in this argument and that the matter would be put right before we reached this present stage. Because of the undertaking that we then received the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) withdrew his Amendment. We are now faced with the fact that, after all this interval, no attempt has been made to bring this Clause into line with the White Paper.

I realise my right hon. Friend's difficulties. It is always difficult for a Minister to inherit a Bill and all that goes with it from someone else, because he has to do what he thinks is right. It may be that my right hon. Friend thinks this Clause, as drafted, is the right Clause, but he cannot think that, as drafted, it fulfils the agreement that his right hon. Friend made with the interests concerned. They only agreed to a special drainage charge for additional work, and this Clause does not cover that. I therefore beg my right hon. Friend to make clear in his reply why he is departing from what has been the normal practice in Parliament, that a Bill follows the pledges given by preceding Ministers in its conformity with the White Paper.

Mr. Soames

I fully appreciate the force of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). We fully appreciated it in Committee when, as my right hon. Friend said, this subject was discussed at length and when we said that we would like to see whether it was possible to bring in some new form of words that would meet the point.

I assure my right hon. Friend that this has nothing to do with the fact that one Minister inherits a Bill from another. It springs much more from the fact that a White Paper is not drafted by Parliamentary counsel. A White Paper is not necessarily drafted in the language appropriate to a Bill. A White Paper is drafted to show people what one is trying to arrive at. It is possible in a White Paper to use all sorts of words to give that impression but words that are not suitable for incorporation in a Clause.

We have two very good examples of that—and they have given rise to this most understandable Amendment—in the words "additional" and "special needs". Those are the words that are very difficult to put into the Bill, as I shall try to explain.

Let us deal, first, with the word "additional". This special charge will be raised, and will continue to be raised for something that is specifically for agriculture—extra drainage works. That is the intention laid down in the White Paper. I agree that the word "additional" is not in the Bill, but that is because the work would no longer be additional once the money had been spent on it. It then ceases to be additional. One has to ask to what is the work "additional" and how long does it continue to be additional?

Again, what is the difference between need and special need? How can one prove that it is a special need of agriculture to have a certain thing? This charge is for a drainage scheme of specific importance and interest to agriculture in a certain area. This is what the Bill is designed to do.

Paragraph 20 of the White Paper says: Where there is a special need for additional drainage work in the interests of agriculture… and Clause 3 says: Where it appears to a river board that the interests of agriculture in the river board area or any part of it require the carrying out of drainage works…. I agree that it would have brought the matter much more in line with the White Paper to have added the words "additional" and "special needs", but that is something that the river board has to determine in any case, because the Clause says: Where it appears to a river board… We have to be very careful when legislating not to write in words that those whose job it will be to carry out the law find impossible to interpret. I assure the House that to add the word "additional" here would raise all sorts of complications. As I have said, it is very hard to know to what the work is additional and when it ceases to be additional, and whether one can go on maintaining a scheme after it has been done and is therefore no longer additional.

There has also been a lot of difficulty in the past in trying to define "special needs." As the hon. Gentleman knows, we had this out in Committee, and I assure him that it is the intention of the Government—and these schemes must come to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—that this is money raised from agriculture for the benefit of better agricultural drainage. If I could have been more precise I would have been, but I do not believe that it would have been in the interests of the enactment if we had changed the wording.

Mr. Jeger

Does the Minister realise that for every person who reads the Bill there must be twenty who read the White Paper? Therefore, those who read the White Paper and not the Bill will be misled by the words Special need for additional drainage work into thinking that there will be special work to cater for a special need. By the wording of the White Paper the Minister, or his predecessor, perhaps unintentionally, has been responsible for misleading many people in the agricultural world. I hope, therefore, that in another place he will go some way to meet the point of view put forward by his right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton).

Mr. Symonds

I am surprised that the Minister has not accepted the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). In my constituency the river board is responsible for a certain section of the river which is rapidly silting up. The use of a large amount of agricultural land is being denied to the farmers. All that we are submitting is that the river board shall submit proposals to the Minister for dealing with cases such as that.

Clause 3 (1) says: Where it appears to a river board and so on. It may never appear to a river board. The Clause also says "the river board may" and so on. Having been a public representative for many years, I know what those words mean, particularly when they are interpreted by those who do not want to do anything. If a Statute says "it appears to them" or they "may do something", they discuss for hours on end how the position appears to them and eventually they decide that they may do something.

Mr. Soames

The Amendment does not affect the words: Where it appears to a river board". The hon. Gentleman is not speaking to the point raised by the Amendment. The words in Clause 3 (1) would stand even if the Amendment were accepted.

Mr. Symonds

That might be the opinion of the Minister, but I have not been called to order by the Chair. I appreciate what the Minister has said, but I do not retract anything that I have said about my interpretation of the words in the Amendment and in the Clause.

I ask the Minister to take note of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North. It is the duty of the Government to ensure that it shall be the responsibility of the river board to carry out a survey.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding on the part of the hon. Member. We are debating the Amendment in page 2 line 19, after "that" to insert: there is a special need for additional drainage work in".

Mr. Symonds

I was under the impression that we were discussing with that Amendment the Amendment in page 2, line 19, at the beginning to insert: (1) Every river board shall carry out a survey of the watercourses in the river board area not later than such date as may be appointed by the Minister for the purposes of this provision.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No. We are discussing the Amendment in line 19 and that in line 20. The Amendment to which the hon. Member referred has not been selected.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Symonds

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I thought from the expressions used by hon. Members and by the Minister himself that that Amendment was under discussion.

Nevertheless, I should like to draw to the attention of the Minister the fact that in my constituency the hematite ore works are doing a lot of work and many of the drains in that area are being closed up. Here is a of special need. From whom is the authority to come? The words contained in the subsection are: Where…in the river board area or any part of it…may submit to the Minister… Here is a case in point where that might be done. I am of the opinion that the Minister should accept the words proposed by my hon. Friend: where there is a special need". In this case there is a special need, and I think that the Minister should accept the Amendment.

Dr. Stross

We had discussions about this question during the Committee stage and I shall not speak at any length now. I was influenced by the speeches made by hon. Members opposite, including that of the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). He was worried because there was a departure from the principles set out in the White Paper, and he thought that it was a bad thing for Parliament to move away from the set phrases used in the White Paper.

Tonight the Minister has given us his explanation that the White Paper is really for the public at large and that the words in it are not necessarily suitable to put in the Bill. If that is the case, I would be influenced by what he said. None the less, I hope that he will say a few more words to explain the further criticism made by a number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. He said, "Look at subsection (10). How can you explain that without putting in these other words which we are now debating?" I should like to follow that argument and accept what he said, that words in a White Paper are not necessarily completely binding when we are framing a Bill. But in the past we have tended to feel that they are.

Mr. Soames

In order to clear up what has been said by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger), may I say that perhaps I did not explain this very well. I do not believe that what has happened as a result of this Bill is different from what is written in the White Paper. I said that, from the point of view of a Parliamentary draftsman, there are certain words which cannot be used in a Bill because they would leave the matter open to doubt. Subsection (10) means that a Minister shall not confirm a scheme under that section unless he is satisfied. That is the safeguard. It is the intention of the Government—it is wanted by hon. Members opposite as much as we want it—that this shall be a special charge for special work for agriculture and work additional to what has been done. The money is raised for a special purpose and no Minister would give permission for such a scheme unless it was additional work and a special need for agriculture.

I see the point made by the hon. Members and by my right hon. Friend. It has been made forcibly both here and in Committee. It would have been nice to have it cut and dried, but there are certain words which may be used in a White Paper which cannot be put into a Bill, and these are two of them. I do not think there is any difference between us in our aims.

Mr. Willey

I am disappointed. The Government had advance warning that we should be disappointed. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), when withdrawing the Amendment, admitted that the Government had not given a hard and fast promise. I made that equally clear. My hon. Friend went on to say that if what the Parliamentary Secretary produced was not satisfactory we shall have something to say about it on Report."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 8th Dec, 1960, c.163.] I apologise for speaking with such brevity. I should have spoken at greater length. I did not wish to do so because, as the Minister said, the matter was discussed in Standing Committee. I wish to reconcile the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) with his right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). The hon. Member was assuming that we were moving words out of the Clause. In fact, this is an addition to the wording of the Clause. I do not share his interpretation of the effect of this Amendment, but, of course, if there was any doubt on the score it would have been for the Government to make their own proposals.

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we are taking the opportunity now to raise the matter again and to make sure that the Government give an explanation; and for this reason we stand by the words we used in Committee.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I was under no misapprehension. I realise that the hon. Member is not trying to leave out words. Any difference between my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and myself over this Clause is because we were entirely at one over Clauses 1 and 2, and this is a separate issue on Clause 3.

Mr. Willey

I regret that my efforts as a conciliator were not as effective as they might have been.

This is regarded as a matter of some importance. The Minister will remember that in the Standing Committee we considered the views of the National Farmers' Union. I do not wish to give the reasons which the Union deployed for supporting this Amendment, but apparently it regarded it as an Amendment of some significance. This is my difficulty in replying to the Minister. He says that these words do not help very much. To give an illustration, "special" does not get us any further. But, whether we amend the Clause or not, the word "special" appears in it. This Clause refers to a "special drainage charge", so that in that connotation "special" apparently has some meaning.

I wish to emphasise the point which is implicit in what was said by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. The Minister is taking over the responsibilities of his predecessor, and is saying that the wording in the White Paper does not help us at all. All that we have done is to try to work by the words used by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman may be right, although I do not share his view, that the words are redundant and unhelpful. But here they are as the view of the former Minister of an effective agreement. It is not unimportant that we should try to make clear that we are carrying out the agreement.

It is important that we should write into this legislation exactly what should appear to the boards. This is an opportunity of doing so and I defy any draftsman to say that it is not possible to do it. If we were providing for a more specific obligation, we might be persuaded by the right hon. Gentleman that it would be impossible to do it, from a draftsman's point of view, but I remain unconvinced that we should not properly define what should appear to the boards.

At present, this matter is not properly defined, and the National Farmers' Union, rightly, can have doubt about it. The right hon. Gentleman says, "We have the White Paper and the provision with regard to the Minister, and for that reason there should not be any doubt". I have doubts and it is wrong for us, as legislators, to be bound by advice, properly tendered, but on grounds that are technically too narrow. This is a matter of great importance and it should be clear that the Government have done everything possible to ensure that the purposes expressed in the White Paper are incorporated in the Bill.

Unless the Minister can give an assurance that he will again look at this matter between now and it reaching another place—and I would also like him to consult all the interested parties who have doubts—we must tell him that he has not made a reasonable reply to the plea we made in Standing Committee, and divide the House.

Mr. Jeger

I must remind the Minister that when we were discussing this matter in Standing Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary said that he intended to consider the whole subject in the light of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) saying: …I do not desire to move the Amendment at this stage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 8th December, 1960; c.163.] My hon. Friend made that statement on the understanding that the Minister would give further consideration to the subject we are now discussing.

Mr. Soames

The House will be aware of the statement made in Standing Committee by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary: But I hope that it is appreciated that, bearing in mind the trouble taken over the drafting of the Clause, I cannot give an assurance that we shall follow such words, or even nearly such words."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A; 8th December, 1960, c.163.] The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) asks me to look at the matter again, between now and it reaching another place. It would be dishonest of me to suggest that I will do so, because I have looked at it and, in my view, I cannot improve on it. All the intention is included in the Clause as it now stands and, of course, the sanction of the Minister is included. The Clause reads: Where it appears to a river board that the interests of agriculture in the river board area or any part of it require the carrying out of drainage works…". Considerable study has been made of this issue and, as I say, it would not be

Division No. 149.] AYES [9.14 p.m.
Ainsley, William Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Redhead, E. C.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Robertson, J. (Paisley)
Bacon, Miss Alice Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Blyton, William Jeger, George Ross, William
Boardman, H. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S. W.) Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield) Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Small, William
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Collick, Percy Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Sorensen, R. W.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Kelley, Richard Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lawson, George Spriggs, Leslie
Crossman, R. H. S. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Stonehouse, John
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Logan, David Stross, Dr. Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Loughlin, Charles Sylvester, George
Davies, Harold (Leek) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Symonds, J. B.
Davies, Ifor (Gower) McCann, John Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Delargy, Hugh McInnes, James Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Dempsey, James McKay, John (Wallsend) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Diamond, John MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Thornton, Ernest
Driberg, Tom Manuel, A. C. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Fletcher, Eric Mapp, Charles Wade, Donald
Forman, J. C. Marsh, Richard Wainwright, Edwin
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mendelson, J. J. Watkins, Tudor
Galpern, Sir Myer Milne, Edward J. Whitlock, William
George, LadyMeganLloyd(Crmrthn) Mitchison, G. R. Wilkins, W. A.
Grey, Charles Moyle, Arthur Willey, Frederick
Hamilton, William (West Fife) Oswald, Thomas Williams, Ll. (Abertillery)
Hannan, William Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Herbison, Miss Margaret Parker, John Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Hill, J. (Midlothian) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Hilton, A. V. Peart, Frederick Woof, Robert
Holman, Percy Pentland, Norman
Holt, Arthur Prentice, R. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Houghton, Douglas Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Mr. Short and Dr. Broughton
Hoy, James H. Proctor, W. T.
Agnew, Sir Peter Cunningham, Knox Hastings, Stephen
Aitken, W. T. Curran, Charles Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Allason, James Currie, G. B. H. Hendry, Forbes
Ashton, Sir Hubert Dalkeith, Earl of Hirst, Geoffrey
Atkins, Humphrey d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Hobson, John
Batsford, Brian Deedes, W. F. Holland, Philip
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate) Drayson, G. B. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) du Cann, Edward Hughes-Young, Michael
Berkeley, Humphry Duncan, Sir James Hulbert, Sir Norman
Biggs-Davison, John Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Hutchison, Michael Clark
Bishop, F. P. Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Iremonger, T. L.
Box, Donald Errington, Sir Eric Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Boyle, Sir Edward Finlay, Graeme Jackson, John
Braine, Bernard Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
Buck, Antony Gibson-Watt, David Jennings, J. C.
Bullard, Denys Glover, Sir Douglas Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.) Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Gower, Raymond Kerans, Cdr. J, S.
Cary, Sir Robert Grant, Rt. Hon. William Kerr, Sir Hamilton
Channon, H. P. G. Green, Alan Kitson, Timothy
Chataway, Christopher Gresham Cooke, R. Leavey, J. A.
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Grimston, Sir Robert Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K, Gurden, Harold Lilley, F. J. P.
Costain, A. P. Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Linstead, Sir Hugh
Coulson, J. M. Harris, Reader (Heston) Litchfield, Capt. John
Crowder, F. P. Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Longden, Gilbert

honest of me to suggest that I could look at it again. I feel sure that, as drafted, the Clause meets the wishes of all the interests concerned, including agriculture, and I hope that the Amendment will now be withdrawn.

Question put, That these words be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 101, Noes 150.

Loveys, Walter H. Partridge, E. Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Lucas, Sir Jocelyn Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe) Teeling, William
MacArthur, Ian Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth Temple, John M.
McLaren, Martin Pitman, I. J. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Maclean, SirFitzroy(Bute&N.Ayrs.) Pott, Percivall Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
McMaster, Stanley R. Prior, J. M. L. Vane, W. M. F.
Maddan, Martin Proudfoot, Wilfred Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John
Markham, Major Sir Frank Pym, Francis Vickers, Miss Joan
Marshall, Douglas Quennell, Miss J. M. Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis
Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Mawby, Ray Rees, Hugh Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Renton, David Walder, David
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Roots, William Walker, Peter
Mills, Stratton Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Wells, John (Maldstone)
Montgomery, Fergus Sharples, Richard Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
More, Jasper (Ludlow) Shaw, M. Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Morgan, William Shepherd, William Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Noble, Michael Smith, Dudley(Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick) Wise, A. R.
Nugent, Sir Richard Smithers, Peter Woodnutt, Mark
Oakshott, Sir Hendrle Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher Woollam, John
Osborn, John (Hallam) Spearman, Sir Alexander Worsley, Marcus
Page, John (Harrow, West) Studholme, Sir Henry
Page, Graham (Crosby) Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale) Tapsell, Peter Colonel J. H. Harrison and Mr. Whitelaw.
Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I beg to move, in page 2, line 35, at the end, to insert: Provided that where such schemes embrace land already subject to schemes made under section fifty-two of the Act of 1930 the river board shall relieve the owners and occupiers concerned either of the obligation to pay the expenses arising under the said section fifty-two or of the special charge arising under subsection (1) of this section, and in the case of land subject to schemes made under section twenty-seven of this Act which is subsequently brought into schemes under this section the owners and occupiers concerned shall only be called upon to pay either the expenses arising under section twenty-seven or the special charge but not both. It will be recalled that in Committee I attempted to move a slightly differently drafted Amendment to deal with the same matter. The easiest way for me to summarise what it is all about is to ask hon. Members to look at paragraphs 37 to 39 of the White Paper, Cmd. 916. That shows the reason why, in Clause 27 of the Bill, we are repealing what used to be known as Section 52 of the Land Drainage Act, 1930. Under that Section, certain schemes of a small nature were carried out under the auspices of county councils or county borough councils, which executed drainage improvements in small areas where the setting up of a drainage district was unsuitable and which recovered the cost from the owner of the land that was to be improved.

What I attempted to do in Committee was to try to make it impossible for areas which had been covered by schemes of that kind to be incorporated in a special scheme under Part III of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), however, raised some valid points against that proposition, not least on the ground that all the schemes that have been carried out under Section 52 of the 1930 Act and which would be carried out under Clause 27 of the Bill should be preserved if special drainage schemes were to be introduced into an area.

It is to try to meet that valid point that I have redrafted the Amendment. It has not been easy. The difficulty is that we are dealing with land which was covered by some schemes under Section 52 of the 1930 Act and in respect of which there may be only small expenses continuing as a result of the work done, and we are also having to deal with new schemes which will be carried out under Clause 27 of the Bill. Nobody knows how much they will cost, but, as is made clear in the White Paper and in the Bill, the cost can be considerably more than the cost was allowed to be under the old Section 52 schemes, for which there was a limit of £2 an acre and £5,000 in all. We are raising the figure considerably to £20 an acre, with no top limit. Therefore, there may be a considerable difference in incidence as between the old schemes which have been carried out, and on which maintenance is continuing and expenditure is arising every year, and the new schemes under Clause 27. It was for that reason that I had to draft something which would cover both, and the wording is a little different when it refers to the past from what it is when it refers to the future.

There is one enormous difficulty. I fully admit it. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will pick me up on this. It is that the new special agricultural charge under Clause 3 will fall upon occupiers. The charge under Section 50 schemes—and I think it will also be the case under Clause 27 schemes—is paid for by the owners concerned. I fully appreciate that that is a difficulty. It is extraordinarily difficult to see how to overcome it.

I must confess I fell into a trap, quite unwittingly, in drafting the Amendment, in that my eye fell upon the fact that Clause 27 (6) refers to the owners and occupiers of land being notified of a scheme made under that Clause, but that I overlooked the fact that later in the same Clause we place the charge on owners only, not on the occupiers. That is how the accident happened.

I am, therefore, quite prepared to believe that the wording of the Amendment is faulty and will have to be rectified, but what I hope I can establish in my right hon. Friend's mind is the need for somehow or another ensuring that where schemes are carried out, particularly the new ones under Clause 27, the owners of land will not find themselves in the unfortunate position, where they are also the occupiers of the land, of having to pay both continuing expenses under Clause 17 schemes and the new special agricultural charge under Clause 3. It would be very unfair if both charges fell upon them when, and despite the fact that, a little island of land was dealt with under Clause 27 schemes, it became part of a much bigger scheme.

9.30 p.m.

I would hope that, even if the expenses which continue from the old Section 52 schemes under the 1930 Act are considered to be too trivial to bother about, my right hon. Friend will nevertheless consider very seriously doing something to meet the difficulty of owners who are also occupiers under new schemes on land which later becomes part of an area which will be dealt with by schemes under Clause 3. The charge there can be quite heavy, and the continuing expense of maintaining may be quite considerable and, indeed, may even outweigh the expense of the special agricultural drainage charge under Clause 3.

Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel that I am endeavouring to do something which in principle was not wildly opposed in Committee, which is an attempt at equity, and which is a definite attempt at avoiding gross injustice happening to people who have tried to improve their land or have agreed to others helping them to do it.

Mr. Soames

I take the point my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) is after. There are three things I would say to him. Of course, what he is after is that the owner of a comparatively small area of land covering perhaps tens of acres or hundreds of acres, which is subjected to some little scheme undertaken between the owner and perhaps half a dozen or so other owners of adjoining land on their own, should not be involved in a big scheme covering thousands of acres, with special drainage charges, and covering the whole basin of a river.

The first thing I would say to him is that it depends which way it happens. If the special scheme covering many thousands of acres is in operation and is being maintained, and the occupiers of the land affected are already subscribing to it, but nevertheless wish to carry out their own scheme on top of that, it is up to them. It is up to them to do it of they wish to. The occupiers of the land and the owners themselves would be contributing to the special scheme; and they decide to do something on their own. It is a question of the extent of the interest.

The special charge is of interest generally to agriculture. Under Clause 27, schemes are of direct interest to a comparatively small number of people whose lands are side by side along a river bank. If there is a special scheme in existence and they wish to have a scheme of their own under Clause 27, that is all right. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that it is up to them. If they have done a scheme of their own under Clause 27, and then a special scheme is put forward in the area in which they are, what my hon. Friend is after is that the same people should not pay twice.

My right hon. Friend himself said that since putting down his Amendment he has appreciated that a special scheme is paid for, the special charges arise on the occupier, whereas Clause 27 schemes would be paid for by the owners of the land. So, in fact, the same people are not paying twice. My hon. and gallant Friend realised that but he nevertheless asked whether there was any way in which this situation could be met.

It could not be met by an Amendment such as this one, but under the Bill as it now stands any special scheme has to go to the Minister. The scheme may be one such as I have suggested, covering a large area, perhaps fifty miles long. It may be a special scheme covering all the watersheds leading into the basin. It would be perfectly possible for the Minister to say that within that scheme there should be an "island" which should be excluded because a large piece of work had already been done there under Clause 27, a scheme which would be known to the river board and to the Department. That would then be excluded so that there would be an "island" within the special charge area.

On the other hand, the river board might put up a case saying that, although there has been a small scheme under Clause 27, a bigger scheme will give those concerned still greater advantage and, therefore, they should be included. I do not think it would be right to write into the Bill that if one has a Clause 27 scheme one should not contribute to a special charge scheme. It might be that benefit would still be derived from the special charge scheme, and, if that were so, it would be right that some financial contribution should be made towards it.

On the other hand, if there has been a Clause 27 scheme and it would appear that no extra benefit would be derived from a scheme covering a largish area by the small area which has already been dealt with by the owners on their own initiative, it would be up to the Minister, if he so chose, to lay down that the "island" of land should not fall within the special charge scheme and to give permission for the special charge scheme to go ahead without the small bit of land being included. That is a safeguard.

In the light of those points, I think that what we propose is the best way to cover what my hon. Friend is aiming at without bringing in too many complications which might redound against the interests which we are trying to safeguard.

Mr. Fletcher

I did not have the advantage of serving on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill, but I have listened very carefully to some of the discussions on Report and, in particular, to the speech of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). I did not think his speech was a masterpiece of lucidity, but, at any rate, I think I understood the point that he was trying to make. Having listened to the Minister, I feel bound to say that I do not think he has satisfactorily answered the points made by his hon. Friend.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is on a fair point here. There are a number of people who have made contributions under Section 27 of the earlier Act, and they have done so because they thought it was partly in their own interests and partly of advantage to the land of which they were occupiers.

The Minister sought to draw a distinction between the liability of occupiers and the liability of owners. He said that he had three observations to make. The first thing he said was that it depended which way it happened. One appreciates that in this relatively small class of case those who have in the past contributed to a scheme of a particular local nature have done so because they were occupiers. One appreciates that the obligation under the Clause we are now discussing will fall primarily upon the owners, but I ask the Minister what about those people who are both owners and occupiers? I imagine that the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely is concerned with the owner-occupier.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I said so.

Mr. Fletcher

The hon. Member said so. Surely, he will be penalised if he has to make a double contribution—if he has to contribute to a scheme under the provisions of the 1930 Act and also to any scheme which may be made under Clause 3 of this Bill. Therefore, it does not seem to me that it is anything like satisfactory for a Minister to draw distinction between the liabilities of occupiers and owners. That does not deal with the point that a great many of the people to whom this applies are both owners and occupiers.

I have a good deal of sympathy with the Amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman, and I ask myself this question. If people in their own neighbourhood, in an area where some scheme has been necessary in the past, have combined together, have undertaken this work, have incurred expense and have paid for it, and have, to that extent, contributed to the drainage operations of the locality in which they live, why should they now find that, because of obligations that are imposed generally under this Measure and in a wider sphere, they should be penalised? Why should they have a double liability?

It has been said that these people may form a kind of pocket or island in a larger area. I should have thought that if they did that, they would be entitled to exemption. All that the hon. Member is suggesting, as I understand it, in his Amendment is that where a scheme is made which embraces land in respect of which the owners—

Mr. Soames

Driving the hon. Gentleman's argument to its logical conclusion, may I ask him if he would agree that if an occupier has contributed to the general charge under the Bill, he should not also be asked to contribute to the special charge?

Mr. Fletcher

I should have thought in the ordinary case, no. There may be exceptions, but in the ordinary case, I should have thought Chat he would be entitled to some measure of exemption. I think that this is what the hon. Member is suggesting—that there should be some measure of exemption for the protection of such people.

Mr. Turton

Will the hon. Gentleman read Clause 1?

Mr. Fletcher

I do not want to give way again. I have listened to the arguments on this Amendment, and I rose to say that my sympathies are with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely. I think that he is on a fair point, and I hope that the House will agree that it is not reasonable that a person who has contributed to a scheme under Section 52 of the 1930 Act should be asked to contribute to a scheme that will be made under Clause 3 of this Bill. I hope that the hon. Member will press the Amendment to a Division.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

May I say, with respect, to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) that I am sorry if my own lucidity in trying to interpret the law was as unclear to him as his own attempts to do the same thing have invariably been to me? I think that some part of his difficulty arises out of a misunderstanding on the part of my right hon. Friend of my remarks, when he said that my object, he thought, was to avoid any land which had already been dealt with under Clause 27 of the Bill, or had been dealt with under Section 52 of the 1930 Act, being brought into any new scheme under Clause 3 of this Bill. That was not my object. My object was to ensure that, if it was brought in, the person concerned did not have to pay twice. That was my purpose, and I certainly had foreseen the situation arising in which land which had been covered under a Clause 27 scheme would become part of a bigger scheme under Clause 3 of the Bill. It was merely to cover the position of the owner-occupier—and here the hon. Gentleman opposite appears to have understood what I was trying to say—where the owner, as the owner, had paid under a Clause 27 scheme, and now, as the occupier, has to pay under a Clause 3 scheme. That is what I was most anxious to avoid happening.

9.45 p.m.

Subject to that comment on my right hon. Friend's remarks, I entirely accept that he conceives it to be the duty of Ministers, when schemes are put up under Clause 3, carefully to consider whether there is some injustice arising if the special agricultural charge is also made on areas where Clause 27 schemes have come into being. Provided that we can be certain that that is part of the Minister's duty and that between now and the Bill going to another place my right hon. Friend will consider inserting a provision to oblige the Minister to take those factors into account, I shall be satisfied. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will try to do so himself, but that may be a matter of his good will, and we must be sure that there is an obligation on the Minister in this respect.

Having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.