HC Deb 07 December 1966 vol 737 cc1510-5

"A.—(1) The Minister may by order provide—

  1. (a) that the sums paid to the Minister by the British Railways Board, the London Transport Board and the British Waterways Board or any of those Boards in pursuance of section 100 of the Local Government Act 1948 (which relates to payments by those Boards in lieu of rates) shall, instead of being distributed as provided by subsection (2) of that section (which provides for their distribution among the rating authorities in England or Wales in proportion to the rateable values of the authorities' areas for the relevant year) be distributed as provided by the order;
  2. (b) that the adjusted basic total of rateable values mentioned in sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1955 (which relates to the rating of Gas Boards) shall, in the case of all Gas Boards or any Gas Board specified by the order, instead of being apportioned and allocated as provided by that sub-paragraph (which provides for its apportionment and allocation among all the rating areas in which, in the relevant year, gas was, or was treated as, supplied to consumers or manufactured by the relevant Board) be apportioned and allocated for the purposes of that Schedule as provided by the order;
  3. (c) that the apportionment of the aggregate values of the distribution and generating activities mentioned in paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the Local Government Act 1958 (which relates to the rating of Electricity Boards) shall, in the case of all Electricity Boards or any Electricity Board specified by the order, instead of being made as provided by sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of that paragraph (which provide for the apportionment of those values by reference to net annual value and generating capacity) be made as provided by the order;
  4. (d) that sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 3 of the said Schedule 2 (which provides that the aggregate values of the generating and of the distribution activities of the Central Electricity Generating Board shall each be taken to be one half of the Board's basic value as determined for the relevant year under that Schedule) shall have effect as if for the reference to one half there were substituted references to such other fractions as may be specified by the order in 1511 relation to the Board's generating activities and distribution activities respectively;
  5. (e) that, in any enactment relating to rating specified by the order, any reference to the manufacture of gas shall include a reference to such dealings with gas as may he specified by the order.

(2) If the Minister is of opinion that payments by way of rates should be made by Gas Boards by virtue of this subsection by reference to any premises occupied and used by the Gas Council or a Gas Board for the reception or liquefaction of gas or the evaporation of gas in a liquid state, being in any case gas purchased by the Council or the Board, he may make an order designating the premises for the purposes of this subsection and providing for the determination, by such method as may be specified by the order, of a value for the premises for those purposes; and where such an order is in force the Minister may direct—

  1. (a) that the value determined as aforesaid shall be apportioned among such Gas Boards as may be specified by the direction in such proportions as may be so specified; and
  2. (b) that each Board specified by the direction shall, during such period as may be so specified, be treated for rating purposes as occupying, within the area of the rating authority in which the premises designated by the order are situated (and whether or not that Board occupies or is treated as occupying any other hereditament in that area), a hereditament of a rateable value equal to the proportion of the value aforesaid allocated by the direction to that Board; and
  3. (c) that sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1955 shall have effect during the period aforesaid, in relation to each Board specified by the direction, as if the Board's adjusted basic total of rateable values mentioned in that sub-paragraph were reduced by an amount equal to the said proportion.
A direction under this subsection may be revoked or varied by a subsequent direction thereunder.

(3) Before making any order under this section the Minister shall consult with such associations of local authorities as appear to him to be concerned, with any local authority with whom consultation appears to him to be desirable and—

  1. (a) in the case of an order in pursuance of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section, with any Board mentioned in that paragraph which appears to the Minister to be concerned;
  2. (b) in the case of an order in pursuance of paragraph (b) or (e) of that subsection, with the Gas Council;
  3. (c) in the case of an order in pursuance of paragraph (c) or (d) of that subsection, with the Electricity Council;
  4. (d) in the case of an order under subsection (2) of this section, with the Gas Council.

(4) An order under this section may contain such incidental, supplemental and consequential provisions, including provisions altering any enactment or instrument, as the Minister considers expedient for the purposes of the order.

(5) In this section "Gas Board" means any Area Board constituted for an area in England and Wales under the Gas Act 1948, and "Electricity Board" means the Central Electricity Generating Board and any Area Board within the meaning of the Electricity Act 1947."

Mr. MacColl

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

When we were considering the Bill on Report, and particularly when we were discussing the main Clause on the rating of nationalised industries, I said that we hoped to be able, in another place, to introduce a Clause dealing with the distribution of the cumulo which had to be paid in rates by nationalised industries.

At the moment there are a number of rather complex statutory formulae which fix this. Some of them go back quite a long way, and they vary in the case of the different industries. They are not really up to date in the light of modern technical developments in certain of the industries. A working party has been looking at this problem for some time, and we are now in a position to make suggestions for dealing with the anomalies.

Perhaps I might tell the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) that we intend to consult the associations of local authorities about the precise formula which will be used, but, because of the desirability of dealing with this, and making it flexible so that it can be adapted from time to time to meet technical changes, we are proposing to do it by means of Orders.

Subsection (1) enables my right hon. Friend to define the present formulae by giving due weight to processes such as the reception and evaporation of liquid gas. This was not thought of when the original Act was devised.

Subsection (2) might almost be said to be designed for the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), because it deals particularly with the problems presented by methane, in which Canvey Island is the pioneer. The difficulty, as I understand it, is that methane may well be transported over a much wider area than the ordinary product of, say, the North Thames Gas Board. Therefore the share of the rate going to Canvey might bite unduly into the share going to the North Thames Gas Board, because this is a national and not a regional operation. The Clause enables these problems to be considered.

I am afraid that these provisions are complicated. Although we are very anxious to push on as quickly as possible we shall not be able to bring the Regulations into force before April, 1968. That sounds a long time ahead, but already preparation has begun of the 1967–68 valuations, and calculations of these are already under way. It will take until 1968 to produce them.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

The House will be grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his explanation of this new Clause, but I should like a little further clarification. He will recall that I raised a point about gas rating during the proceedings on the Gas Bill. The point is a curious one. It might have general application, but it so happens that at the moment it applies only to my constituency, becauese the Gas Council chose to place there the first British methane gas plant. Tankers now bring 700,000 tons of liquid gas annually from North Africa. They discharge their cargoes at Canvey Island and the methane is stored and processed there and is then distributed by pipeline throughout the land. Through the medium of the plant in my constituency about 10 per cent. of the nation's gas is supplied and distributed.

Unhappily, because of the way in which gas undertakings are rated, we have an industrial premises occupying about 70 acres of extremely valuable land but contributing practically nothing to the rate. The Canvey Council contemplated taking the matter to the courts, on the ground that what took place in the plant constituted a manufacturing process within the meaning of Section 11(1) of the Local Government Act, 1958, but the introduction of the Gas Bill frustrated that attempt.

When I raised this matter I received promises from two Parliamentary Secretaries that it would be looked into, and I am glad to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that that is the case. We now have the new Clause, which provides Power to alter distribution of certain payments made by nationalised boards in lieu or by way of rates. This raises a question of crucial importance to the local authority in my constituency. As I understand it, subsection (1) would enable the Minister to revise the present formulae by giving due weight to processes, such as the reception and evaporation of liquid gas, which were not foreseen when the formulae were devised. If that is so I want to put two questions to the hon. Gentleman.

First, does he envisage that subsection (1) will help my local authority? I am hoping for an encouraging reply from him. He has been very courteous, but I am expecting him to be not only courteous but forthcoming. If he does think it will help my local authority, can he say when the Order made by the Minister under the Clause would be effective? This is a matter of supreme importance to a small local authority which might be led, under the Clause, to expect a substantial increase in rate revenue.

Mr. MacColl

I hope always to be courteous and sometimes I am forthcoming, but I cannot prophesy or give any categorical assurance about what form this will take. But the object of the exercise is to deal, inter alia, with precisely the point which the hon. Gentleman raised. We must get agreement between the ratepayers, the nationalised industries, and the competing rating authorities who want a share of the rates. This is a classic illustration of the value of delegated legislation, as it would be difficult to do this by continual re-enactment of legislation. By Statutory Instrument, it is possible to adapt it to a changing situation, as and when we get the necessary agreement. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not have cause to reproach me.

Mr. Braine

When might the council expect some decision on this? When will the Order be made?

Mr. MacColl

I said that it could not come into effect before April, 1968. The laying of the Order would depend on when we had it prepared. It may be later than 1968, but that is what we are aiming for.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Lords Amendment, No. 21: In page 19, line 37, at the end to insert new Clause B—(Calculation of rate products.) B. The Minister may, after consultation with any local authority or association of local authorities with whom consultation appears to him to be desirable, make rules as to the manner in which the product of a rate of one penny in the pound for any area is to be estimated or determined for such purposes of this Act and of any other Act, whether passed before or after this Act, as may be specified by the rules; and rules under this section may—

  1. (a) make different provision for different purposes;
  2. (b) repeal any provisions of, or of an instrument made under, an Act passed before this Act which the Minister considers will become unnecessary in consequence of the rules;
  3. (c) amend any provisions of an Act passed before this Act or of an instrument made under such an Act in such manner as the Minister considers appropriate in consequence of the rules;
  4. (d) provide that the provisions of any Instrument having effect by virtue of an enactment repealed or amended by the rules shall continue in force as if they were contained in the rules."

Mr. MacColl

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

This is a valuable proposal to bring under one roof the many different statutory powers for calculating rate products. It is not a fundamental change of the kind with which this Government are normally associated. It is a moderate one and not much more than a change of words. It means that consolidation will be easier under one definition. These Regulations could come into operation by April, 1967.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]