HC Deb 26 June 1969 vol 785 cc1751-61
Mr. Murton

I beg to move Amendment No. 41, in page 18, line 9, at end insert: 'or in the case of alterations to a drainage system serving a dwelling house such alterations as are necessary to connect the house to a main drainage system whether or not the same are incidental to or needed as aforesaid for the purpose of making some other improvement fully effective'. This Amendment raises what is probably one of the most fundamental issues in the Bill it may well be someone's Waterloo, but I hope not ours. It deals with the vexed question of why a water closet within a house cannot be included in the Bill whereas one outside the house is included in the Bill and eligible for grant when connected to main drainage.

The point was debated at length in Committee, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said: It is perfectly true that if the improvements cover matters such as insufficient drainage resulting from additional water flow from a house, and if other parts of the house were being repaired, the roof, for instance, a claim could be made under the Bill for the cost of connection to a main sewer. Anything which is genuinely in regard to an improvement which is subject to grant is covered. That should lessen some fears."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F, 6th May, 1969; c. 834.] This is not a situation which arises only in rural areas. In my own constituency there is still a legacy of houses on cesspool drainage. Under a local health regulation, septic tanks are not permitted. The reason goes back some years in that there was a very serious typhoid epidemic which was traced to such a tank.

In the Borough of Poole there has been a great deal of heart-searching over the problem since, if someone has a water closet in his house and the time comes when main drainage is laid in the street, he is expected to pay for a connection from his house to a suitable point in the road.

On the other hand, if in a rural area or, possibly, in an urban area the owner of a house with an outside water closet decides that the time has come to bring it indoors and he obtains a grant for so doing, that grant automatically covers the drainage on his land up to the point of connection in the main road. This is completely anomalous.

The problem also arises in many houses where, as a first step to bringing them up to present standards of hygiene, a water closet has been installed but they have not yet got around to putting in a bath. It could well be that if the water closet is attached to a cesspool, when the bath is put in it will be found that the cesspool will not be large enough to take the flow. I know of many cases where people have got over that difficulty by turning the bath water into the nearest ditch. But this is not a hygienic principle. If they increased the size of the cesspool they would get a grant, but if they were to run the water from the bath plus the water closet into the main road and connect to the sewer they would not get a grant. To my mind this is absurd.

It might also be argued that main drainage as such obviously and indubitably is an improvement to a house. Those of us who have lived in houses without main drainage know that there is a certain restriction on their value when it comes to selling them. People nowadays are most alarmed at the thought of buying a house which has not got what we would call the "mod cons" suitably attached, working and running.

We contend that the Amendment should be accepted. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary in Committee talked about retrospective legislation and retrospecive payments. We are not asking that where this has happened in the past a grant should be given, but that in future cases there should be a grant.

We must also remember that local authorities, under their powers, will no longer undertake to empty a cesspool free of charge, except where people have an original agreement with possibly a rural district or an urban district council. Nowadays, if a house owner wants his cesspool emptied he has to pay for it. This, again, causes considerable hardship in smaller properties, which, naturally, are owned or tenanted by people with small incomes.

For all these reasons—and I make this impassioned plea because it is a fundamental of modern living—I contend that these words should be included.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

I am glad to support the Amendment. I was extremely sorry that the Government did not feel able to accept it in Committee. I understand the points made by my hon. Friend about the urban areas, but in not accepting the Amendment the Government would be striking a blow at rural areas, particularly in Westmorland, where there are many scattered communities and housing tends to be of a worse standard than in the urban areas.

Standards in the rural areas are now being brought up to what my hon. Friend described as "a fundamental of modern living". I hope that, as this drive is going forward to get better standards of housing in rural areas, every opportunity will be taken to give people in those areas the greatest possible assistance, when they want to connect up their houses to the main drainage system. It seems absurd that they should be excluded from having this advantage.

I can only underline everything that my hon. Friend has said. I urge the Government to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Martin Maddan (Hove)

I also welcome and support the Amendment.

The occasions on which a grant may be obtained are somewhat of a jungle to hack through. I compliment my hon. Friend on the clarity with which he moved the Amendment. As I listened to him a thought occurred to me which perhaps he or, indeed, some other hon. Member may be able to elucidate for me. Main drainage is perhaps the greatest amenity, after electricity and water supply, that a house can have. But, by its nature, making a connection to it, particularly in country areas, is often a very expensive matter. The anomalies at present are such that it would be wise for a householder to build an outside loo at his own expense so as to be able to get a grant for the whole connection of his household to the main drainage.

Mr. Murton

indicated assent.

Mr. Maddan

My hon. Friend nods, so we can take that as certainly being the case.

Does that not underline the merit of my hon. Friend's Amendment? Would it not move the heart of the Government and cause them to try to introduce a little more rationality into a very complicated and anomalous position.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Murton), who proposed this Amendment with considerable clarity, and my hon. Friends the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) and the Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan).

As I am sure that the Minister is anxious to give a comprehensive reply and as we are all anxious to get this important matter right—there may not be an opportunity to return to it in future or, at any rate, for some time—I should like to deal with the question of the dwellinghouse which will never be connected with the main drainage. We must face the reality that there are such places.

I agree that if someone is trying to sell a house it is useful to say that it has main water supply and main drainage, but there are places which can never have those facilities. I hope that nothing in the Amendment or in the Bill, as the Government would like it to stay, will prejudice the position of people who have houses which will not be connected to the main drainage system because there will not be one in their locality. I hope that that will be taken into consideration in looking at the whole picture.

Mr. Skeffington

We had a long discussion about this matter upstairs. I am glad to have the chance to come back to it, because there has been this further period in which we have been able to review the whole basic principle.

The issue still is that this is a Bill providing substantial grants for improvements of various kinds. Where drainage can be legitimately connected—I use this in the physical and in the grammatical sense, as it were—with the improvement, the cost ranks for grant. But where it is a drainage problem as such, whatever may be the merits of helping—and there are various financial provisions whereby help can be given for connecting houses with the main drainage or new alternative systems—then that should be left to that legislation and those grants rather than bringing it into a Bill dealing in the main with improvements to old houses.

5.30 p.m.

That is still the issue, and in Committee I gave examples to which I shall not refer again, except to tell the House that in a number of cases in rural areas the costs of connection to the main drainage, or to some form of septic tank, will qualify for grant. If a bathroom is installed in an old house and there is no adequate or proper provision for water to run away, connection to the main drainage is legitimate, and grants would be available.

It may be that even where minor work is being done to a row of cottages, connection to a main drain in the adjacent highway will rank for grant, provided the interests of the occupier are sufficient under the definition in the Bill, that is to say he is a freeholder, or a householder, or the owner of a leasehold interest for more than five years. If it can be shown that it is a proper improvement, it will qualify for grant.

Where we cannot go as far as the hon. Gentleman wants, and as far as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) in Committee asked us to go, is to say that in those cases where there would be no improvement, but where it would be highly desirable for a main drainage connection, that connection should qualify for grant under the Bill. That is what the Amendment seeks to provide. We feel that this would be wrong because, apart from the financial commitments involved, other legislation is available by which this can be done. Taking that view, I think that we are adhering to the distinction which has been drawn by past Administrations.

A local authority can, if it wishes, connect to sewers under the authority given by Section 291 of the Public Health Act, 1936. If it cares to make a charge for that, the cost can be spread over 30 years. This work can also be done under the provisions of Section 13 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1953, and all or part of the costs of connection can be waived. I am glad to say that the authority in which my premises were situated a few years ago did that and I did not have to pay.

Mr. Murton

Will the Minister perhaps remind some local authorities of the existence of those provisions, because in the borough of Poole a large amount of money has been charged to owner occupiers for connecting to main drainage. This has caused dreadful trouble in the past, and the same kind of thing is about to happen again.

Mr. Skeffington

It is a matter for the authorities concerned to take action under the Act which they prefer. They can use the Public Health Act, or the 1953 Act. In rural districts they can use the provisions of the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Acts, of which there are a number. Under these Acts the cost of connecting a system from the curtilage to the drainage system ranks for grant at a rate of 35 per cent. This is an alternative provision which is available to rural authorities. Local authorities have a complete discretion to charge, or not to charge, for connecting to the main drainage system. Alternatively, they can spread the charge over thirty years, or give a substantial grant.

Mr. Peter Walker

What is the position of a local authority which borrows the money to lend it to someone for thirty years? If a local authority waives the cost of connecting, is any form of Government grant available?

Mr. Skeffington

I do not think that there is a grant when the cost is waived. In respect of loan charges, normally all the sums are put together in a budget for a period of years, which is sanctioned by our Ministry.

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) asked how local authorities behave with regard to grants. My hon. Friend said that the local authority area in which he lived had provided a grant. Apparently no such grant is available in Poole. Is not this a question of my hon. Friend living in a Labour-controlled area, and the hon. Gentleman living in a Conservative-controlled area? That being so, would it not be to his advantage to vote Labour at the next election?

Mr. Skeffington

I think that I can give a satisfactory answer to that. My local authority changes hands from time to time. I cannot remember which party was in power when the grant was made.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

Is not the hon. Gentleman misleading the House by giving the impression that a local authority may pay the whole or part of the cost of connection? It is true that under Section 13 of the Public Health Act, 1936, a local authority can pay the cost of connection from the main drain in the highway up to the boundary of the owner's land, but this can be a relatively small part of the cost. What a local authority cannot do is to pay for the cost of the connection from the road boundary up to the point where the lavatory is situated in the owner's house. It is this which often leads to the greatest cost.

Mr. Skeffington

I never deliberately try to mislead the House. I thought that what I said was clear. Householders, owner-occupiers and landlords are always responsible for the drainage within their curtilages. I thought I made it clear that what was covered was the cost of connection from the curtilage to the main drainage.

No one doubts that connection to main drainage is highly desirable, but what should rank for grant, or under which unbrella the grant should be paid, has been made clear by previous Administrations. Circular No. 29/62, which was issued in connection with the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1958, the House Purchase and Housing Act, 1959, and the Housing Act, 1961, set out the relevant provisions. Paragraph 20 (viii), under the heading have a proper drainage system", said: Works of improvement within the curtilage of a dwelling approved for grant may include the cost of connection to an available nearby main drain. Grant is not payable where the work proposed is simply the change-over from one form of drainage to another, e.g. from a septic tank to main drainage. In other words, where there is an improvement, grant can be paid, but where it is drainage as such, grant cannot be paid.

That is emphasised in paragraph 18 of the same Circular, which says: Whether it is practicable to meet certain of these requirements may depend upon the availability of mains services. The responsibility for providing such services rests with the local authority or the appropriate statutory undertakers and grant should not be paid towards the cost of bringing services up to the curtilage of the dwelling. For those reasons we think that while there are cases, such as I specified in Committee, where there are genuine improvements which should rank for grant, in the other instance which I have mentioned it should not be paid, and there fore we think it right to maintain this provision in the Bill.

Mr. Peter Walker

I should immediately declare an interest in that my house is not on main drainage, but I must add that the political complexion of the rural district council is independent.

I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary was terribly lacking in conviction. What he was trying to say was that going over to main drainage was not an improvement. We consider it an important improvement. The powers of local authorities which he listed for assisting in drainage were not at all satisfactory. The loan for 30 years is not a very happy situation for anyone. I do not know what the interest rates would be, but they would probably be very large; the local authorities must borrow money, presumably, from the Public Works Loan Board, and currently the rates are 9¾ per cent., so it is no wonder that local authorities faced with giving this option would be loth to do so. The other option was that a local authority could pay for it altogether, but it is very unlikely in present circumstances that they would do this, with once again, the costs of borrowing money and the colossal burden which this would put on the ratepayers concerned.

Therefore, we maintain our position that in many of the rural areas and some urban areas it is essential to give the maximum encouragement for people to go on to main drainage. I am willing to admit that in the past drainage assistance has been dealt with elsewhere, but I would have thought that the time has come for both sides of the House to recognise that there is no better way of doing it than under this Amendment to this Bill. The points of my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Murton)—for example, the absurdity that one can get a grant to increase the size of one's cesspool but not to go on to main drainage, show an acceptance by Governments that in their view changing from a cesspool to main drainage is not in itself an improvement.

Any of us who live in rural areas which are not on main drainage—

Mr. Skeffington

Of course it is an improvement, but one is a drainage improvement and the other is a housing improvement, and this is a housing Bill and not a drainage Bill.

Mr. Walker

But the Parliamentary Secretary has already said that the provisions available for drainage improvement are on the basis of local authorities deciding to waive the cost, and this is the only scope which remains for them. He also knows that, in the present plight of local authority finances there is no possibility that, given this alternative, they will be able to take it. The whole position of local authority financing at the moment is one of terrible strain. Where they have to borrow money, as they would have to in this case, it is on penal rates of interest. The advantage of the grants in the Bill is, first, that there is a substantial Government contribution, and that, therefore, the Government themselves would be devoting £40 million by 1972 to trying to encourage certain types of improvement in houses.

To say that drainage is not an improvement would be considered by most hon. Members an absolute absurdity. This is

a fundamental improvement, and one which we want to see increasing very fast. Those who live in rural areas or represent them will know how the problems connected with the emptying of cesspools are becoming a real difficulty and liability for local authorities; the charges which they have to make now both to tenants and to owners of property for that removal are becoming considerable. This in itself is another adverse effect on the housing problems of those areas.

Therefore, we think that it is perfectly sensible that grants should be available to assist in these domestic drainage problems. Having heard the Government's alternative, in a very poor and weak case, I would certainly urge my hon. Friends to divide.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 133, Noes 178.

Division No. 294.] AYES [5.43 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Gurden, Harold Prior, J. M. L.
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Pym, Francis
Astor, John Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Quennall, Miss J. M.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Awdry, Daniel Hawkins, Paul Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Batsford, Brian Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Ridsdale, Julian
Bell, Ronald Heseltine, Michael Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Higgins, Terence L. Royle, Anthony
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hill, J. E. B. Russell, Sir Ronald
Black, Sir Cyril Hirst, Geoffrey St. John-Stevas, Norman
Body, Richard Holland, Philip Scott, Nicholas
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Hunt, John Sharples, Richard
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Brewis, John Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Silvester, Frederick
Brinton, Sir Tatton Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Sinclair, Sir George
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Bryan, Paul Jopling, Michael Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Bullus, Sir Eric Kaberry, Sir Donald Speed, Keith
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Kershaw, Anthony Stainton, Keith
Channon, H. P. G. Kimball, Marcus Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Chataway, Christopher King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Tapsell, Peter
Clark, Henry Kitson, Timothy Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Clegg, Walter Knight, Mrs. Jill Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Cooks, Robert Lancaster, Col. C. G. Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Lane, David Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Corfield, F. V. Langford-Holt, Sir John Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Crouch, David Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry van Straubenzee, W. R.
Crowder, F. P. Longden, Gilbert Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Dance, James Lubbock, Eric Vickers, Dame Joan
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) McAdden, Sir Stephen Waddington, David
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Doughty, Charles McNair-Wilson, Michael Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Walters, Dennis
Errington, Sir Eric Maddan, Martin Weatherill, Bernard
Eyre, Reginald Monro, Hector Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Fortescue, Tim Montgomery, Fergus Wiggin, A. W.
Foster, Sir John Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Gibson-Watt, David Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Murton, Oscar Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Goodhart, Philip Nabarro, Sir Gerald Worsley, Marcus
Goodhew, Victor Page, Graham (Crosby)
Grant, Anthony Page, John (Harrow, W.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gresham Cooke, R. Peel, John Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Pounder, Rafton Mr. Jasper More.
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Abse, Leo Grey, Charles (Durham) Newens, Stan
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip
Anderson, Donald Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Ogden, Eric
Archer, Peter Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Orbach, Maurice
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Harper, Joseph Orme, Stanley
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Oswald, Thomas
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Hattersley, Roy Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Paget, R. T.
Beaney, Alan Hilton, W. S. Palmer, Arthur
Bidwell, Sydney Hooley, Frank Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Bishop, E. S. Hoy, Rt. Hn. James Park, Trevor
Booth, Albert Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Boston, Terence Hughes, Roy (Newport) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Hunter, Adam Pavitt, Laurence
Brooks, Edwin Hynd, John Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Pentland, Norman
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Buchan, Norman Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Price, William (Rugby)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Rees, Merlyn
Cant, R. B. Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Richard, Ivor
Carmichael, Neil Judd, Frank Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Kelley, Richard Robertson, John (Paisley)
Chapman, Donald Kenyon, Clifford Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Coleman, Donald Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Roebuck, Roy
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lawson, George Rowlands, E.
Crawshaw, Richard Leadbitter, Ted Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Lee, John (Reading) Sheldon, Robert
Dalyell, Tam Lestor, Miss Joan Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Lipton, Marcus Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Luard, Evan Skeffington, Arthur
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Slater, Joseph
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) McBride, Neil Small, William
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) McCann, John Snow, Julian
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) MacColl, James Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Davies, Ifor (Gower) MacDermot, Niall Symonds, J. B.
Dobson, Ray Macdonald, A. H. Taverne, Dick
Doig, Peter McGuire, Michael Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Driberg, Tom McKay, Mrs. Margaret Tinn, James
Dunn, James A. Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Urwin, T. W.
Dunnett, Jack Mackintosh, John P. Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Eadie, Alex Maclennan, Robert Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Wallace, George
Edwards, William (Merioneth) McNamara, J. Kevin Watkins, David (Consett)
Ellis, John MacPherson, Malcolm Weitzman, David
English, Michael Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Wellbeloved, James
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Whitlock, William
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Marks, Kenneth Wilkins, W. A.
Faulds, Andrew Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Fernyhough, E. Mendelson, John Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Molloy, William Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Moonman, Eric Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Forrester, John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Fraser, John (Norwood) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gardner, Tony Morris, John (Aberavon) Mr. Ernest G. Perry and
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Moyle, Roland Mr. Ernest Armstrong.
Gregory, Arnold Murray, Albert

Amendment made: No. 43, in line 16, leave out subsection (2).—[Mr. MacColl.]

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