HC Deb 17 July 1972 vol 841 cc272-5


Mr. John Silkin

I beg to move Amendment No. 509, in page 70, line 4, at end insert: 'including the supply of heat to such premises in their area and such premises owned by them outside their area as they may think fit upon and subject to any such bylaws as they think fit and to such terms and conditions as may be agreed between the local authority and the owners or accupiers of premises'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

With this Amendment we can also take Amendment No. 510, in page 187, line 37, at end insert: ' "heat" means heat however supplied and includes hot water and hot air but does not include gas other than non-combustible gas;'.

Mr. Silkin

That is a consequential Amendment, and it includes a definition of the sort I was always taught one should never make—a definition which includes the word to be defined. There are, however, precedents for that, and this was taken from a Private Bill. That does not mean that it is the last word, and if the Minister cares to use his imagination to get a better definition I shall, of course, willing give up all private authorship and resign to him. The defin- ition in Amendment 510 is that "heat means heat"— 'heat' means heat however supplied and includes hot water and hot air but does not include gas other than non-combustible gas". First of all I would say that the House is well aware of the importance of district heating not only as an economical means of supplying heating over a large area but as an environmental advantage in the supply of heat and hot water, and there is no doubt that, as the years go by, it is being increasingly used here and throughout the world. In fact, the Department of the Environment itself recently announced that about 14 per cent. of local authority dwellings under construction this year will be heated by district heating. It is an extremely important factor in heating.

Curiously, what has grown up is a kind of patchwork of legislation which does not deal with district heating in any separate form. There is no comprehensive piece of legislation, which is what one would expect, which enables a local authority to install and operate a district heating system, and the result is, rather curiously, that a local authority may not have power to break up a highway or to sell heat to tenants, or to properties, whether private or public, not owned by the authority, or purchase heat from a nearby scheme or power station; and the only way round that, as the law stands at the moment, is for Private Bills to be introduced, and they are both expensive and complicated.

Although a number of the larger authorities have introduced such Private Bills from time to time the smaller authorities are very reluctant to follow this lead because of the expense and complication. What the smaller authorities are left with is a group of small, permissive powers in various Acts, the Housing Act, 1957, Section 79 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, and the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act, 1970—patchwork, piecemeal legislation, none of which fully meets the point.

We have to consider this factor, that whereas it has been unsatisfactory from the point of view of legislation in the past to consider the question of district heating, it is even more unsatisfactory as we approach the reorganisation of local government, if only because it is the district councils which have the housing responsibility and it will be the counties which have the highways responsibility. Since both of those are involved in district heating we find ourselves once again with patchwork legislation, very difficult to deal with.

I hope that the Minister will take my Amendments in good part. I do not expect him fully to accept them as drafted because, as I have so frequently and wearisomely said, it is no part of my business in life to act as an unpaid draftsman to his Department, but I hope that he will accept the principle of them. In view of the large and increasing use of district heating, it is time to put it on a sound legislative basis, and I hope that the Minister in that spirit will consider it.

Mr. Graham Page

It might be said that we have had on this Bill enough hot air to satisfy anybody. It has been non-combustible gas throughout and, having kept the temperature down so far, I hope that we shall not now turn on the heat. I think I can satisfy the right hon. Gentleman sufficiently to keep the debate cool.

Clause 111 would be quite the wrong place in which to provide local authorities with a power of the kind sought in the Amendment. The Local Government Bill is not the right place to attempt to deal with district heating. Powers relating to district heating are contained in about 40 local Acts. That is a good reason for putting all the legislation into a public Act.

The effect of the Bill on those local Acts will be that unless the Minister makes an order preserving them they will lapse at the end of 1979 in the case of authorities within the metropolitan areas and at the end of 1984 elsewhere. It is my intention to add provisions relating to district heating undertakings to the list of those provisions which, by virtue of Clause 250(10), will be exempted from the lapsing provisions of the Clause. That is an excess of caution because I hope that by that time we shall have embodied the district heating provisions in a public statute. The job of providing local authorities with district heating powers in public legislation would need a substantial Statute or series of Clauses. I am not prepared to take it aboard the Bill.

I recognise that public legislation is needed, and I hope that soon we shall be able to find a niche in the legislative programme in which to produce a Bill on this subject. It might be a good Bill for a Private Member to take up. Legislation is obviously needed, but this Bill is not the right place for it.

Again I come before the right hon. Gentleman in sackcloth and ashes and ask him to leave it a little longer to see whether we can get it on the Statute Book in a good form.

Mr. John Silkin

I think that the Bill is probably the right place for it. I was not aware that there were as many as 40 Private Acts relating to district heating, but I should have thought that a Local Government Bill, particularly one concerned with reorganisation, was ideal for it. But, on the basis that the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the problem and has undertaken that there will be legislation at the earliest possible moment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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