HC Deb 18 February 1976 vol 905 cc1379-96
Mr. Speed

I beg to move Amendment No. 37, in page 3, line 17, leave out from beginning to end of line 7 on page 4 and insert: 'from persons for whom they perform the services, provide the facilities or make the rights available: Provided that in respect of the services, facilities and rights other than the supply of water the authority shall allow such persons a remission equal to one-half of the charges therefor'.

Mr. Newton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps it would help if I indicated that I do not wish to move Amendments Nos. 43 and 48 and would be happy to have them taken with Amendment No. 37.

The First Deputy Chairman

The selection has been made by the Chairman of Ways and Means. Amendment No. 48 seems to relate to an entirely different clause.

Mr. Speed

I do not think it does, Sir Myer, but this is one of the difficulties that the House faces due to lack of time. I have no doubt that the amendment is defective. Also, I do not wish to pursue the figure in the amendment for reasons which I shall adduce. We tabled it fairly soon after Second Reading and we have had second, third and fourth thoughts since then.

Basically, taking into account the decision in the House of Lords, those who are not connected, according to the definition, will receive a remission, in practical terms, of about 97 per cent. of the general service charges. They will have to pay only for those charges listed in Clause 2(1)(a).

On Second Reading my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) raised the question of highway drainage. He put forward a figure of 30 per cent. which in some parts of the country is probably accurate. We are now advised, having pursued the matter—we have had little time to do this—that that might be a high figure. In some parts of the country charges are levied upon the highway authority, whether it is the Department of the Environment or local authorities. In other parts the drainage may go to streams which are not necessarily the responsibility of regional water authorities. In other parts it is quite clear that there is a charge which the regional water authority has to meet as a result of highway drainage.

It is difficult to put a precise figure on this, but the entire community gets the benefit of highway drainage, the charge for which falls in some degree upon the water industry. It is therefore reasonable that a percentage should be paid by everyone, whether connected or not.

As my hon. Friend asked on Second Reading, is it not fair that there should be some contribution, even if not major, towards the cost of sewerage and sewage disposal by all ratepayers? That is also the view of the Association of District Councils in its most recent letter to me. If that is so, it would clearly be totally against the spirit, as well as the letter, of the Lords' judgment to talk in terms of unconnected ratepayers paying 80 or 90 per cent. of the general service charge.

Speaking as an unconnected ratepayer myself, I believe that it would be reasonable to impose a charge of, say, 25 per cent. to cover the costs of highway drainage and any element of benefit from sewerage and sewage collection. That would have the desirable side effect of marginally reducing the burden on connected ratepayers, but we are not arguing just from that point of view. We are seeking equity and justice. Someone who is not connected receives considerably more than the 2 per cent, or 3 per cent, of the benefit of services covered by the Bill.

If the Committee accepts this basic conclusion which is totally in line with the Lords' judgment, the way to proceed might be to amend Government Amendment No. 38 so as to add: for services liable to be rated in respect of hereditaments to which this sub-paragraph does not apply, 25 per cent. of such charges". That is just an idea, but the Minister's amendment gives us the opportunity, perhaps in another place, to say that a rather greater charge should be imposed.

On the highways side and from the point of view of sewerage and sewage disposal, there should be some contribution. There is no doubt from Clause 2(1)(a) that these matters will grow in difficulty, particularly as the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and other legislation get well under way.

The Minister has been helpful over this matter and I hope that he will be able to agree that this is a fairly important point of substance. As one who is not connected and thus stands to benefit from the Bill I believe that I should be getting an unfair advantage if I paid only the small percentage proposed.

We need to ensure that we avoid the double charging which has been mentioned. Some people who are not connected will be disadvantaged by the Bill, particularly when they have to have a number of collections from their cesspools or septic tanks in one year and will face much higher fees. But that does not alter the basic fact that they generally get a substantial benefit, which we believe to be about 25 per cent., rather than the 50 per cent. that we put in the amendment. I realise that the amendment is defective, and as it stands, I am not even arguing for it, but it will help the House to express a view which could be taken care of in another place.

8.15 p.m.

The First Deputy Chairman

Before I call the next speaker, I should like to deal with the point raised earlier by the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton). He sprang his suggestion on me and it would have been much more helpful if he had come to the Table earlier. I am sure that that was an oversight. Without advance notice, it appeared to me on a hurried look that Amendment No. 48 related to Clause 3. I have now found that, no doubt due to a printer's error, it does relate to Clause 2. So does Amendment No. 43. With the agreement of the Minister, I am prepared to allow the following amendments to be discussed with Amendment No. 37:

No. 43, in page 3, line 29, after 'are' insert: 'the drainage of highways and other public places, and'.

No. 48, in page 4, line 6, after second 'in', insert 'paragraphs (a) to (f) of'.

Mr. Denis Howellindicated assent.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to you, Sir Myer. I accept your gentle rebuke——

The First Deputy Chairman

It was not a rebuke—just a reminder.

Mr. Newton

I just thought that my suggestion would save time. I am grateful for what you have said. There was indeed an error. It is just that the point raised by my amendment is exactly the same as that raised by Amendment No. 37 and I am grateful for your ruling.

Mr. Hal Miller

As an unconnected ratepayer, I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) that a greater contribution than originally envisaged would be in order.

There are many people in my constituency who, because of the geology of their ground, have to have their cesspits emptied up to 48 times a year. The Severn-Trent Water Authority proposes a charge of £5.50 for treatment on top of the district council charge, which remains virtually the same, at £3.20. That is a total charge for emptying of £8.70 and there is some doubt about VAT on top of that.

The result of the House of Lords decision and the charges that it is proposed water authorities should levy is that these people will be considerably worse off. Because this problem affects a relatively less prosperous area in my constituency, some will be unable to pay these charges. They are in a real difficulty.

The Bill says: …a water authority shall have power to fix such charges for the services performed…[...]as they think fit". The Severn-Trent authority proposes to levy its charge whether a load is full or not. It will not accept the principle of a part-load, which will make life much more difficult. The question has been raised of which Act the water authority is subject to. My constituents and my district council have tried to refer the matter to the Price Commission. I have written to the Minister on this matter. He has not yet been able to reply because of the complications of this debate, but this matter is causing a great deal of concern, apart from the level of charges. I should be grateful if he could point some way forward, otherwise, the last state of the people I have mentioned will be worse than the first.

Mr. Graham Page

Amendment No. 37 would bring magnificent simplification to a very complicated Bill. It would solve many of the Minister's problems. It would present us with the concept which is well known to local authorities and to hon. Members—the concept of the general service charge and of the 50 per cent. remission. This is how it has been worked for the past two years, although the Law Lords said that it was illegal.

We must abide by the decision of the Law Lords and put the matter right for the two years during which the concept was in operation, but we are under no obligation to continue the complications which the decision of the Law Lords will involve. The amendment would solve the whole problem by allowing us to return to the concept of the general service charge and the remission of 50 per cent. as operated for the past two years.

I said on Second Reading that, although we have to put the matter right for the past, the Orders which were held to be wrong were merely carrying out what everybody thought that the Act allowed. Therefore, why should we not go back to that position? Let us make the Act do exactly what we thought it would do when we passed it through the House in 1973.

If the amendment were accepted, it would restore the remission of 50 per cent. of the general service charge to those unconnected. The general service charge is a charge for all the services other than the supply of water. The 1974 and 1975 Orders are intelligible and have been perfectly simple to operate. If we apply the decision of the Law Lords for the future as well as for the past, we shall get into all sorts of complications.

I hope that the Minister will think again. The amendment perhaps proposes a drastic change in the structure of the Bill, but, after all, that is what we are here to debate. I am sure that the Minister will have thought about this and I hope that he will continue to think about it. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) said that he does not propose to press the amendment but merely intends it as a means of enabling us to discuss this important point of principle, I am sure that the Minister will continue to try to get this matter right in another place and bring it back to us later.

Further, I am not sure that the amendment is not good as it stands. I would have said that the Minister could accept the amendment straight off the cuff.

Mr. Denis Howell

The right hon. Gentleman drafted it himself.

Mr. Alec Jones

The right hon. Gentleman also drafted the original Act which caused all the trouble.

Mr. Page

The Minister of State rightly guesses that I drafted the amendment. I will let the comment of the Under-Secretary pass. I support the amendment.

Mr. Newton

I support my hon. Friend's amendment, in view of my own amendments, one referring to highway drainage which is probably impossible to identify in detail, which were designed to raise precisely the same point.

As I said earlier, I wholly accept that, in face of the Law Lords' decision, there can be no question of imposing any charge retrospectively. I agree wholeheartedly with what has been said in this respect on both sides during the debate. One of my great worries about the Bill has been, not just that we should now sort out the situation with which we are faced from the past, but that we should get it right for the future.

On Second Reading I said that it was unfair to my constituents who were unconnected—I include myself as an unconnected ratepayer—that last year and the year before that we should pay the whole charge but that it was fair that we should pay some of it. I do not know whether 50 per cent. is the right figure. I do not know whether 25 per cent. is the right figure. However, I suspect that the Bill still has not got it right and that there will be a new injustice as the Bill stands, in that large numbers of people will be making virtually no contribution, although they none the less enjoy some general benefit from the general drainage of the towns, the roads and other facilities that they use.

It is important to recognise that large numbers of people are involved. In a way, that is the obverse of the size of the refund. The Anglian Water Authority tells me that it has 240,000 unconnected ratepayers—that is, excluding garages, which amount to another 150,000—out of just under 2 million ratepayers. Thus, we are talking about 12½ per cent. of properties which would then pay virtually nothing towards the general sewerage and drainage system.

I am told that in the Braintree District Council there are about 2,000 unconnected ratepayers out of 45,000. That is about 5 per cent. In the Chelmsford District Council there are about 5,000 unconnected properties out of just over 50,000—nearly 10 per cent.

I think that most of those people—certainly such of my constituents as I have spoken to—would accept that they enjoy some benefit from the general drainage of Braintree and Chelmsford and the roads between those two places and other places round about and that they should make some contribution towards it.

I do not pretend to know what the right figure is, but I do know that it would be wrong for the House to pass the Bill without taking more account of the general benefit of the drainage services than the Bill at present appears to take. I hope that the Minister will look at this problem between now and the Bill's proceedings in another place. Although I do not specifically support the terms of the amendment, I support the general case advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford.

Mr. Denis Howell

Once again I am grateful for the tone of the discussion, which I find very helpful. In a sense the amendment gets to the heart of the problem. I therefore welcome the discussion and I shall certainly look into all the matters that have been raised. I hope to contribute something to the thinking that I am anxious should emerge from the discussion.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) will not be surprised to learn that the amendment, which was drafted by his right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), is defective. I cannot resist recalling what my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State for Wales said: as the right hon. Gentleman drafted the 1973 Act which got us into all this difficulty, it is not surprising that his drafting of the amendment does not come up to the high standard that we have come to expect from him.

The amendment is defective, first, because it would not give us any power to charge for community benefit services and, secondly, because it would restore the position in respect of the 50 per cent. remission to all properties, whereas the Government's scheme previously was to make a 50 per cent. charge for domestic properties. So there is a considerable difficulty there.

The point has been fairly made that people whose properties are not connected to the sewerage system should pay some charge. It is said that it would be wrong to relieve them of any general service charge. I have a great deal of sympathy with that point of view. Indeed, it was that sort of thinking which led the Government, a year ago, to decide that 50 per cent. would be the right charge to levy on households which, although not connected to the sewerage system directly, enjoyed a number of benefits from the general activities of the regional water authorities.

8.30 p.m.

What are the benefits? In deciding what is the right amount, if that is the road which we are going down, it is necessary to spell out the benefits. The Committee will appreciate how difficult it is to make a judgment. The amendment takes us back to the view that the Government's first thoughts last year were right—namely, that 50 per cent. was about right—whereas second thoughts now lead some to think that 25 per cent. would be about right. I am not quite sure whether the right hon. Member for Crosby agreed that 50 per cent. was right, or that it should have been between 25 per cent. and 50 per cent. Let us spell out not only to hon. Members but to the public the benefits which are enjoyed by those not directly connected to the sewerage system. I have much sympathy with the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), who has said that those who started this hare running did not realise where the hare would finish up, what it would consume on the way, and the difficulties that would arise.

Mr. Graham Page

Hare coursing!

Mr. Howell

I am not in favour of hare coursing. I believe we must spell out one or two of the important facts so that citizens realise the benefits that they enjoy from the activities of regional water authorities. First, there are public health advantages. It is difficult to put a price upon them. Undoubtedly, if the regional water authorities were not dealing with the cleaning of our sewerage systems, the clearing of floodwaters and the cleaning of rivers, there would be considerable public health risks and hazards. It is difficult to put a price upon the authorities' activities in that sphere.

Mr. Stainton

I submit that the right hon. Gentleman is in danger of embarking upon a series of confused thoughts. He is trying to quantify public health in terms of the benefit that it confers on the community. I am sure that we are concerned basically with the costs that are incurred in providing public health facilities and not the value thereof, which is priceless.

Mr. Howell

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am never confused in my thinking. I am the essence of clarity. I am seeking to demonstrate that if the authorities did not carry out their general duties the effect on public health would be enormous. That being the case, it is reasonable to expect people whose properties are not directly connected to the sewerage system to make a contribution towards the general public health advantages provided by the activities of the authorities. It is extremely difficult to quantify or to price those activities, but it is a factor that one has to take into account.

Even though the properties of domestic householders may not be connected directly to the sewerage system, the fact that there is treatment of sewage is a benefit even for those who live in unconnected properties. The owners of such properties presumably go on holiday, go into the cities and visit cinemas. Presumably they generally act within the community. If the services in question were not provided they would find themselves in considerable difficulty. Even though they do not use the services in their homes they use them outside in the course of their normal activities.

We must also take into account the control of pollution. The control of pollution legislation which I brought forward, which received support from both sides of the House, is of great importance. I demonstrated its importance when I went to Europe to argue with our European partners whether we were doing enough to control pollution. I believe I convinced them that we were doing rather more than many other countries in Europe in that respect. The control of pollution legislation imposes new obligations upon regional water authorities. Some of those obligations have already come into effect. Others have not, because they require the introduction of an Order from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That is another obligation, and it must be paid for. Should those whose properties are not connected to the drainage system be totally exempted from contributions?

I turn to the subject of the cleaning of rivers, a matter to which we all attach great importance. We have made dramatic progress. Over 30 different species of fish have been caught in the River Thames during the past year, including two salmon. On one occasion recently, when in Brussels, I rashly promised my German ministerial counterpart that I would catch a salmon from the House of Commons terrace in under a decade from the present time. Although I may doubt my ability to catch that salmon, I am confident, in view of the dramatic evidence of the cleaning of rivers, that the prospect of salmon returning to the Thames is not as remote as it would have been a few years ago. The point is that somebody must pay for the cleaning up of our rivers, and that money comes from the general service charge.

We must also consider the whole question of access to reservoirs and the subject of recreation and amenity provided by the regional water authorities. In the debates on the Water Act 1973 the point was often stressed that regional water authorities should pay due regard to ways in which our great reservoirs and rivers are used for recreational and amenity purposes. If people wish to camp along the riverside or to picnic in areas with pleasant prospects of water scenery before them, we must remember that all those amenities have to be paid for.

I thought it right, in this short cameo of a debate, to state that it is surely reasonable to expect people whose properties are not connected to sewers to contribute to these areas of activity that are so worth while in our national life. If hon. Members have any further thoughts on this topic—whether they think the right contribution should be 20 per cent. or 25 per cent.—I shall be interested to hear their views.

Having stated general principles, I turn to deal with some considerable difficulties. We must first consider the administrative difficulties. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) for pointing out that nobody wants to go back on the House of Lords judgment. We are left with the question: if we face up to the situation, do we take action immediately in this Bill or do we make provision for the future?

That poses another considerable problem. If we were to take action now, local authorities might find themselves in great difficulty. I understand that there are two views among the local authorities. The Association of District Councils seems to take the view that it is reasonable to take some action now, but I am also advised that local authority treasurers take a different view. It is a matter that the local authorities will wish to discuss further. Certainly the Association of Municipal Authorities takes the view that any radical change brought about by the Bill will have serious repercussions in terms of feeding information to computers and the issuing of rate bills this year—in other words, the amount of work might not be able to be undertaken in time for action this year.

That leads me to the question of the consultation document, which, as I have promised, will appear shortly. The consultation document will deal with the future of water authorities. I cannot make any commitments tonight but I shall consider the matter seriously and keep in touch with the Opposition. If it is found to be impossible to act in another place, I have in mind to set out in the consultation document the way in which the Government previously reached 50 per cent. and the alternative suggestions which have been put forward tonight—for example, that 25 per cent. might be appropriate.

If we proceeded in that way there would be considerable advantage. There would not be an untold delay because, as I have said before, we have in mind asking all the authorities—the local authorities, the regional authorities, and everyone else—to let us have their comments by the end of July. We particularly chose that time because we believe that some of the matters arising in the consultation document will require legislation, which will have to be introduced soon after that. Therefore, the end of July was carefully chosen to enable all matters to be considered and for the necessary drafting, and so on, to be undertaken. If it is not possible to move this matter in another place it certainly would be possible to include it in any legislation that arises from the consultation document.

Another important matter that has been raised several times is the relationship between the imposition of a 50 per cent. or 25 per cent. charge for the general service section of water authorities and the charge for emptying cesspits by local authorities. The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) raised a matter in this connection today and on a previous occasion. At first sight it seems to me that we must be careful not to impose additional charges on the domestic user. If we went back to the 50 per cent. or 25 per cent. charge without at the same time tackling the increased charges that local authorities are now making for the emptying of cesspits, we might double the burden. I have always taken the view that, ideally, those two aspects must be dealt with together. I am advised by all the lawyers that as emptying the cesspits is undoubtedly the responsibility of the local authorities and comes under local authority legislation we cannot deal with that part of the problem in the Bill. That enables us to concentrate on the great difficulty involved.

One solution has been canvassed before—indeed, I think it was put forward when the Water Act was in Committee upstairs. I confess that it has an attraction for me. It is that in order to stop the problems which the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) mentioned, we should make it a duty of regional water authorities to undertake the emptying and treatment of cesspits and to charge the residents in the normal way for sewerage services. Obviously we could not do that in the Bill, because the Bill is not the proper vehicle for such measures. Moreover, it would be an interference with the duties of local authorities. I could not advise the House to go down that road this evening unless we had properly consulted the local authorities.

When we were discussing local government reform I was utterly amazed by the passion with which local authorities wanted to hang on to the duty of emptying cesspits. I could never understand that. They let us know quite firmly that drainage and cesspit clearance were functions they wanted jealously to preserve. I do not know whether they were wise or not. However, we cannot proceed to remove these powers from the local authorities and impose them on the water authorities in this Bill. Even if it could be done in the Bill it could not be done without adequate consultation with the local authorities.

I recognise that the hon. Member for Ashford and his hon. Friends have raised a matter of importance and substance, which goes to the heart of the issue. I shall certainly give careful attention to everything they have said. If I conclude that it is possible to do something in another place I shall do it. However, for the reasons I have given, particularly on the relationship between charges for cesspit emptying and for the general service of water authorities, it may be impossible to do it in another place. In that case I undertake to have all the arguments canvassed in the consultation document that I shall be producing very soon, with the possibility that we can get agreement after consultation and return to the matter in the autumn, probably in another piece of legislation.

I give these undertakings, but of course I do so without commitment, because of the tremendous complexities. I am not seeking to burk this issue, only to take on board the interesting discussion that we have had, and give it the widest possible consideration. We can then try to get it right between us, though agreement on both sides of the House and with the regional water authorities and the local authorities.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

We are grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with this subject and for the thorough way in which he has demonstrated what is passing through his mind. Of course, the clearance of cesspools must be dealt with if we are travelling along the road of a remission charge as in the Order. He said that he could not take action without consulting the local authorities and that he could not alter in this Bill their powers to empty cesspits. He will know that on Monday the House will be considering the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Perhaps he could find a place for it there. The Long Title of the Bill would certainly cover such a point. If the right hon. Gentleman is inviting me to do so, I will put down an amendment to remove from local authorities the duty to empty cesspools and to put in the requirement that the water authorities should do it free of charge as part of their general duty on sewerage.

I do not think the Committee will accept entirely his argument that it is impossible to make such a substantial alteration at this stage. This Bill seeks in Clause 2 to change the law, and the Government are therefore asking local authorities to change their system of collection. Clause 2 will give them a lot to do in the future. He is asking for that change in the law now and saying that in the summer he will bring out a consultative paper which will foreshadow some further change in the law and perhaps bring that into operation in a Bill in the next year or two. That means that there will be two changes in administration. Rather than face the prospect of local authorities and water authorities having to change the system all over again within a year or so, it would be of great benefit to them to get it right this time, here and now. If the right hon. Gentleman can leave enough time for this to be sorted out between the Bill leaving this House, going to another place and coming back to us, I am sure that that will be appreciated by all concerned. I cannot believe that local authorities would want to change the administration and have the law changed for them now, and then contemplate another change in 12 months' time.

I am sure that I speak not only for my colleagues on the Back Benches but also for those on the Front Bench when I say that if there is any way in which we can help the programme along, the Minister can count on our full co-operation. I hope that he will be able to take the local authorities with him. As he has generously disclosed his thinking on the matter, I hope that what he has in mind will materialise in time to come into the Bill when it gets on the statute book.

Mr. Arthur Jones

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has reflected the view of all hon. Members on this side of the Committee in thanking the Minister for the considerable thought and careful attention that he has given to the problems at issue here. The right hon. Gentleman said that this went to the heart of the problem, and we are grateful to him for the sympathetic consideration that he has afforded the advocacy on this side of the Committee both during our proceedings this evening and on Second Reading. I do not think it is going too far to say that the Minister has gone out of his way to support the case that has been made. That emphasises the strength of our advocacy, and the view that I gained from what he said is that he is with us if what is proposed can be seen to be practical in terms of implementation.

The right hon. Gentleman went a little beyond the functions referred to in the proposed new subsection (1A) of the 1973 Act. He referred to matters of health and public facilities. He spoke about the additional responsibilities that will flow from river clearance and the control of pollution, and whether 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of the general service charge is a sensible figure for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) suggested 25 per cent., and my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby suggested 50 per cent. That demonstrates that we are searching for an equitable and calculable figure. That may be a difficult proposition but I do not think that it is beyond the bounds of a sensible assessment, and perhaps the Minister will have an opportunity to look further into this between now and the later stages of the Bill.

Reference was made to the emptying of cesspools and the high level of charges in some parts of the country. I think we were surprised to hear the figure quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller), just as we were surprised to hear the number of emptyings that is necessary. I do not know what the underground conditions must be like in those areas. There must be solid rock which prevents any liquid effluent from getting away.

There is a wide variation of charges within my constituency. One district council charges £20, while another charges £9.50 for what I should have assessed were similar circumstances. The suggestion that the regional water authorities should be responsible would have the advantage of creating a more common level of charge, and the scale of operation which they may be able to develop, perhaps over a period of years, may bring significant economies to the cost of emptying cesspools. It is a difficult job, involving transport and the carrying of specialist equipment, and there seems to be a substantial possibility of savings when the charges are considered in terms of the wide variations in levels.

I am grateful to the Minister for the sympathetic consideration that he has given to what he described as issues of significance. I know that we can rely on him to continue with his inquiries. On the Opposition side of the House we have already made most of our suggestions and it is now a matter of looking at the technical and consultative questions to which the Minister referred. I am confident that I speak for all hon. Members when I say that we are most grateful to the Minister for the consideration that he has given to the matter.

Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I know that the Minister is aware of the concern that exists in Birmingham over the increase in water charges, and also of the view that equalisation should proceed more slowly. Perhaps he will bear these matters in mind when he further considers charges.

Mr. Speed

I hope that in the next few days we shall be able to help the Minister. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Alec Jones

I beg to move Amendment No. 38, in page 3, line 22, after 'above' insert—

  1. '(i) for services performed, facilities provided or rights made available in the exercise 1395 of functions under section 14 above, from persons liable to be rated in respect of hereditaments to which this sub-paragraph applies, and
  2. (ii)'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this amendment we may discuss Government Amendments Nos. 41, 42, 44 and 45.

Mr. Jones

In the Second Reading debate the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) said: On a more general point in seeking to prevent other Daymond-type situations in the future—as we all want to do"— I think we all agree with that— is it not possible for the definition in respect of refunds to apply for the purpose of future charges as well?"—[Official Report, 12th February 1976; Vol. 905, c. 669.] That is the purpose behind Amendments Nos. 38 and 41, and those associated with them.

Clause 1 contains a precise definition of those properties which are without sewerage and so are eligible for refund. That applies only to refunds. We are seeking to apply the same definition to the water authority charging powers. In the amendments we are not only meeting our own requirements but are trying to prevent a further Daymond situation—and, I believe, we are meeting the request of the Opposition.

The amendment will also allow proportional charging for those public utilities which are rated by formula, where it is impossible to identify how much of the total rateable value is attributable to unconnected property, in the same way as refunds will be calculated for industries.

Amendment No. 42 is purely consequential on Amendments Nos. 38 and 41. Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 are consequential on the first two amendments, since in the clause we are rewriting Section 30 of the Water Act 1973. We need to define as Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 do, what is meant by "special rating".

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) will appreciate the points that the Minister has made. As I see them, the amendments bring the charging powers within the rebate arrangements described in Clause 1. We welcome that.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 39, in page 3, line 25, leave out 'occupiers' and insert 'persons liable to be rated in respect'.

No. 40, in line 27, leave out 'occupiers' and insert 'persons'.

No. 41, in line 27, at end insert— '( )Subsection (1)(b)(i) above applies to a hereditament if—

  1. (a) it is drained by a sewer or drain communicating directly or indirectly with a public sewer provided for foul water or surface water or both, or
  2. (b) the person liable to be rated in respect of the hereditament has the use, for the benefit of the hereditament, of facilities which drain to a sewer or drain so communicating, or
  3. (c) it is subject to special rating and not of a description specified for the purposes of section 1 of the Water Charges Act 1976 by an order under section 254 of the Local Government Act 1972.'.

No. 42, in line 28, leave out 'paragraph (b) of subsection (1)' and insert 'subsection (1)(b)(ii)'.

No. 44, in line 41, leave out 'and in that paragraph' and insert— '( ) The following subsection shall be added at the end of the said section 30:— (11) In this section".'.

No. 45, in line 43, at end add 'and special rating" means rating under any enactment contained in sections 31 to 34 of the General Rate Act 1967 or under section 52 of the Post Office Act 1969, and includes rating under any order made by virtue of section 19 of the Local Government Act 1974 amending any of those sections.'.

No. 46, in page 4, line 3, leave out 'occupiers' and insert 'persons liable to be rated in respect'.

No. 47, in line 4, leave out 'occupiers of such hereditaments' and insert 'such persons'.—[Mr. Alec Jones.]

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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