HC Deb 11 April 1986 vol 95 cc549-50

Considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

2.20 pm
Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third Time.

The House will appreciate that if it accepts the Bill, we shall have passed two measures today which will help disabled people. The Bill is a small step to correct an error in the Rating (Disabled Persons) Act 1978. Under that Act, it was possible for disabled people to have rebates of their rates, but they were unable to have rebates on their drainage rates. Most people pay a general rate and a water rate, but a few people living in areas such as the Fens and around the rivers Ouse and Severn also pay a drainage rate. Inadvertently, under the 1978 Act those disabled people were prevented from receiving rebates of their drainage rates. The Bill will enable those few hundred people to make claims on those rates.

Under the Bill, the rating authority will make a written note to the internal drainage board that it has allowed a rebate on the general rate to some disabled people. The drainage board will then be allowed to give a rebate to those people. It will also be possible for institutions occupied by disabled people to claim rebates. That would cover the provision of additional lavatories, bathrooms and garages and, in some cases, heating allowances, which are required by groups of disabled people.

I hope that the House will regard the Bill as a small measure correcting an error in a previous Act and as a measure of justice to some disabled people.

2 22 pm

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jopling)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) on his success in the ballot and on his wisdom in choosing this subject for his Bill. Many hon. Members will agree that if an hon. Member is fortunate in the ballot but secures only a modest position, there is always a dilemma about what he should do for the best. He has the option of introducing some great measure of national or world-beating, epoch-making calibre which might sometimes be hugely controversial and which comes to an early end through the use of the procedures of the House and no one hears of the measure again. Alternatively, he could try to find a modest measure that is useful, helpful and necessary. My hon. Friend has adopted the latter course.

My hon. Friend is in good company. I was once in a similar position. In the 1960s, I introduced the Parish Councils and Burial Authorities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. I do not know whether it is still on the statute book. I suspect that it has been overtaken by other measures.

The Government welcome the Bill. I am grateful to those hon. Members who have eased the Bill's passage so that it can go on to the other place. I intend to give what help I can to ensure that this small but worthwhile Bill reaches the statute book.

The Bill restores to disabled persons relief from drainage rates which was unintentionally removed by the Rating (Disabled Persons) Act 1978. The hon. Member who introduced that Bill is not present, so I shall not name him. I am satisfied that the omission of that provision was unintentional.

Relief from general rates and special drainage rates payable in areas covered by internal drainage boards was provided by adjustments in the rateable value of properties occupied by disabled persons. The 1978 legislation abolished that system in favour of rebates on general rates, but overlooked similar provisions for drainage rates. The Bill rectifies the position by providing relief on drainage rates in proportion to the rebates on general rates. The sums involved are likely to be small, but we believe that this opportunity should be taken to right an injustice that was inadvertently imposed on the disabled.

We have been reviewing the arrangements for the administration and finance of land drainage and flood defences. The Government are considering the responses to the Green Paper in the light of proposals for water authority privatisation, but final decisions are not likely for some time. The Government's proposals for reform of the general rating system which were announced in the Green Paper "Paying for Local Government" are likely to take some time to be realised. In the meantime, I ask for all-party support, which was given to the Rating (Disabled Persons) Act 1979, so that this legislation is placed on the statute book.

The guts of the Bill are in clause 1, which requires rating authorities which have granted a rebate under the Rating (Disabled Persons) Act 1978 on a hereditament in an internal drainage district to give the internal drainage board written notice of that rebate. The written notice would state the gross amount of the general rate and the rebate, the hereditament to which it related and the period for which the rebate had been granted. On receipt of that notice, the internal drainage board would grant corresponding relief in respect of any drainage rates chargeable in connection with that hereditament by reducing the drainage rates payable or by repaying any amount that happened to be overpaid.

I have explained to the House how this works. I hope that very soon we shall hear from another place that this matter has been agreed there and that the Bill may appear on the statute book. All hon. Members will want to join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East upon the signal service that he has again performed in his long parliamentary life on behalf of the disabled people of this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.