§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, this really is quite a small, formal Bill which I think can be dealt with in a very few words. It deals with a small point that was overlooked in the drafting of the Local Government Act of last Session. Under certain Local Acts, and particularly one that was passed about fifty years ago, the qualification for voting at elections for these drainage boards was based on the valuation of the hereditament for the purposes of the Poor Rate. The derating of agriculture really renders this form of election a farce. We have therefore had to find a substitute for the qualification of the value of the property under the Poor Rate and we have substituted, as your Lordships will see, Schedule A of the Income Tax Act, 1918. We have chosen the gross annual value in this case because, apparently, the net annual value includes certain deductions including the drainage rate. Therefore in order to get over that difficulty we have chosen this phrase "gross annual value for Income Tax purposes" which you will find in the definition.
This Bill also deals with another small anomaly, because under certain Acts, notably one passed in 1861 and also the 1918 Act, some authorities levy rates on an acreage basis, but the voting is still based on annual value as laid down in the Act of 1861. This Bill adjusts that anomaly also. It is a small point, really not very important, because it is so seldom that there are elections for these drainage boards. It is very difficult often to get people to serve at all, but 109 it is an anomaly and it is a good thing that this Bill should put it right. If the Bill should prove to meet the general agreement of your Lordships I will ask permission to put it down for the Committee stage next Thursday—the day after to-morrow—as I understand His Majesty's Government are most anxious to get the Bill through before the autumn. However I will leave that until there has been a discussion on the Bill and we will see whether there is general agreement in the House on the principles of the Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ LORD STRACHIE, who had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That the Bill be read 2a this day three months, said: My Lords, I have given notice to move the rejection of this Bill in order that we may have a fuller explanation from the noble Earl than he has vouchsafed to your Lordships. May I, at the same time, congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for War on the fact that apparently he also represents the Ministry of Agriculture. Of course we know he is an agriculturist and thoroughly understands agricultural questions, but I think most of us on this side of the House deprecate very much indeed the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture is no longer directly represented in the. House as it has been for the past twenty-five years, but only by a noble Earl who, however able, has no direct communication with the Ministry and can only speak by the brief which is handed to him.
§ The difficulties which I expect will arise will be obvious when he is asked to undertake to do something. He will always have to tell us that he will have to apply to Mr. Buxton or to Dr. Addison for leave to carry out anything which we ask him to do. I am going to ask him now whether he would be ready to agree to a particular Amendment. As we hear constantly that the Labour Party is short of Peers it is rather a mystery why they have not taken the opportunity of making Dr. Addison a Peer. He would then be able to represent the Ministry of Agriculture in this House. I do not think for one moment that the Prime Minister would have appointed Dr. Addison as Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture 110 unless he was satisfied that he was well versed in agriculture and thoroughly understood the wants of agriculturists. I have heard it suggested that he is rather more advanced and will be able to supply ginger to Mr. Buxton, the Minister, if he does not go far enough on some questions on which some of us would like him to go further.
§ I would ask exactly what is the use of this Bill? How does it alter the position of the Local Government Act, 1929? No doubt the noble Earl is quite conversant with the circular which was issued on May 29 last to drainage authorities, which explained exactly how the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1929, applied to land drainage. I do not think the noble Earl showed quite clearly—no doubt it is not his fault—that though agricultural land is derated under the Act of 1929, yet as regards the question of rating for the purposes of land drainage agricultural land is not derated, because I would remind him that by Section 67 (1) of the Local Government Act, 1929, agricultural land and buildings within the district of a drainage authority continue to be held liable for drainage rates. Therefore you see as a matter of fact that agricultural land under that section is not derated. That is pointed out by the circular which I hold in my hand.
§ Then again by Section 4 (1) of the Land Drainage Act, 1918, rates are levied on acreage or annual value at the option of the local authority. Do I understand from the noble Earl that that option is to be taken away by the Bill and that in future there is to be no possible alternative? It may be in some districts desirable to rate upon acreage alone and not on rateable value. I am not going into the question whether that is right or wrong. I am sorry I do not see the noble Earl, Lord Stradbroke, in his place because no doubt he would have been able to tell your Lordships the reason why that circular was issued and he would be more competent than I am to discuss the matter. It seems to me that the circular is a very valuable one and absolutely necessary, and I should like to ask why the present Government think it necessary as far as I can understand it, practically to destroy that circular which was only issued last May I would also like to know whether the 111 Bill does away with the principle that land rated at 40s. an acre and land rated at 5s. an acre should bear exactly the same rate; that is to say, that land valued at 40s. would pay no more rates than land valued at 5s. an acre?
§ It seems to me, too, that a court of summary jurisdiction is hardly the proper body to deal with these matters. It would be much better to follow the precedent set by the late Government in the Local Government Act, when they provided an appeal to Quarter Sessions in order to facilitate matters of this kind. It was very properly arranged that a special committee of Quarter Sessions should be set up for dealing with these questions. It seems to me that this is exactly one of those cases where it is desirable to have an appeal to Quarter Sessions rather than to a court of summary jurisdiction. I think that noble Lords who sit upon local benches will agree that these benches consist of the men most interested in this question, and many of them would either be disqualified or would be unsuitable to hear these cases. It is very much better to have some tribunal that is entirely dissociated from any local questions of that sort, and that such questions should come before Justices of great experience and learned lawyers who will be able to deal with these very intricate matters. I imagine that the Local Government Act, 1929, will have to be applied in some of the cases, and I hope it is no part of the object of the noble Earl, the Under-Secretary of State for War, to get rid of the provisions of the Act of 1929, which, to my mind, is a very valuable measure indeed. I beg to move.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day throe months").—(Lord Strachie.)
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I do not often find myself in full agreement with my noble friend Lord Strachie, but, as he knows, I have already indicated in the debate on the Address, and I should like to take this further opportunity of saying how very deeply I deprecate the fact that there is no official salaried representative of the Ministry of Agriculture sitting in this House. I took the opportunity of mentioning during the debate 112 on the Address, and I should like to repeat, that the appointment of two separate Ministers sitting simultaneously in the two Houses of Parliament to represent the Ministry of Agriculture was, in fact, agreed to by Mr. Asquith when he was Prime Minister in 1912, on the definite understanding that in future there should always be one Minister representing the Ministry of Agriculture in each House of Parliament. At that time, of course, the sole Minister was the late Lord Carrington, as he then was, sitting in this House, and those of us in the House of Commons who took an interest in agriculture and agricultural matters took exception to there being no duly qualified representative in that House. I hope, therefore, whatever may be said of the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Strachie as to the extensive ennoblement of further sympathisers with the Labour Party, that, rather than disestablish my noble friend Lord De La Warr from the position which he has so well occupied this afternoon, he is the person who would be selected as representing the agricultural industry, of which he is known to be a well-informed champion, rather than that someone else should be asked to undertake the task.
So far as I understand this Bill—and it is rather nebulously worded—I believe it to be a pure matter of machinery in order to enable those who are members of drainage authorities up and down the country to continue to act in that capacity with a proper qualification. I am bound to say that I find it impossible, especially in this hot weather, to follow my noble friend Lord Strachie into the somewhat intricate objections that he found to certain provisions of this Bill. But one thing that I do very much want to say is that some of us are looking for a much more comprehensive and far-reaching Drainage Bill than this small measure and, if I may be allowed to say so as having sat as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage in 1927, I consider, and I know that my colleagues on that Commission consider, that this is not a matter which will brook delay. No less than 52 years ago a Select Committee of your Lordships' House sat to consider the relatively water-logged condition of this country, and they stated in their Report that it was a matter deserving the urgent consideration of Parliament. 113 Nothing has been clone since that time, and the land has become increasingly water-logged and less productive of primary wealth, and particularly of the food which we all so much desire to see produced.
There is one other thing that I wish to say. There are no fewer than 361 land drainage authorities in this country. Most of them are superfluous, some of them are costly and wholly ineffective and many of them are moribund. I should like to offer a caveat that there should be no implication, through the passage of this Bill, that those authorities are going to be continued in existence longer than is absolutely essential. The recommendation that we made was, of course, that there should be catchment area authorities and, within each area, certain internal drainage authorities, the number of whom in the aggregate would be something like one-tenth of that which we permit to attend to land drainage matters in this country to-day. I venture to hope that an early effort will be made to abolish the greater number of these drainage authorities, instead of appearing, by improving or remedying the basis of their qualifications for employment, to continue them in their present position for a clay longer than is absolutely necessary.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I do not propose to suggest who should be promoted to the Under-Secretaryship of Agriculture to sit on the Bench opposite, nor do I wish to go into any discussion as to whether or not there should be further provisions with regard to water on the land. At the present moment, so far as I know, there is very little water on the land anywhere, and many people would at the present moment like to see a little more water upon the land. This seems to me to be a very simple Bill which deals, not with any expansion of drainage or protection of land, but entirely with the manner in which a rate is to be levied.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I am very glad to hear that remark. Perhaps I shall get an explanation. The first clause runs:—Any provision of any enactment relating to the drainage or protection of 114 land which requires any matter, other than the amount of any drainage rate, to be determined by reference to the value of property as ascertained for the purposes of general rates, or of drainage rates, shall, as from the first day of October, nineteen hundred and twenty-nine, have effect as if it required that matter to be determined by reference be such value as is herein after mentioned.Speaking as a layman, that seems to me to refer to the method of assessment for raising rates, and to nothing else. But, if the noble and learned Lord says that I am wrong, I shall be very glad to be put right. The words of the clause are:—any matter, other than the amount of any drainage rate.If he will look at the definition, he will see that "drainage rate" means—any rate which is assessed under any commission of sewers or in respect of any drainage, wall, embankment or other work for the benefit of the land.Surely that covers everything. What else can there be? The definition seems to cover everything, and therefore the first clause—I do not know whether any noble Lord here can explain it—seems to me to be quite unnecessary and very difficult to understand.
Paragraph (i) of subsection (1) of Clause 1 says:—In the case of property assessed for Income Tax purposes under Schedule A of the Income Tax Act, 1918, as amended by any subsequent enactment, by reference to gross annual value for Income Tax purposes,and then the definition clause says:—Gross annual value for Income Tax purposes' means the annual value for the time being in force for the purposes of Income Tux under Schedule A of the Income Tax Act, 1918.Is not that the net income? There are so many schedules that I am not sure, but it seems to me that the Income Tax as determined under Schedule A is net and not gross. I am sure that noble Lords opposite will be most anxious to see that all their Bills are drawn in such a way as to be understandable by the people, which has not always been the case lately, and I hope we shall have some explanation which will show what is the exact meaning of this particular Bill.
§ Clause 2 says:—"This Act shall not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland." The Local Government Act has a clause which does not extend its provisions to the Isles of Scilly without a Provisional Order. I remember that these unfortunate islands were once left out before, and perhaps the noble Earl will look into the matter.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I should like to support Lord Banbury in his request for a little clearer understanding with regard to the reference to "gross annual value for Income Tax purposes." When I read the Bill through I underlined those words. I quite understand, especially when I come to the definitions on the second page, that it is the annual value for Income Tax purposes under Schedule A. That is quite plain there, but why is the gross annual value mentioned in paragraph (i)? I think that Lord De La Warr tried to explain in his speech, but he did not, I think, quite succeed.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I hope you will forgive me if I do not follow Lord Strachie and Lord Bledisloe on the constitution of the Government, but I will convey their message to the Prime Minister. The point Lord Strachie made about the circular of 1929 really is a most vital point, because it was in reference to that circular of 1929, and the replies of certain drainage authorities to the Ministry in response to that circular, that this whole question arose. They drew attention to the fact that there would be difficulties really in the coming elections of the drainage boards. This Bill concerns itself purely with the qualifications for voting, and it has no relation what-ever to the basis on which drainage rates are to be levied. The qualification was based not on the drainage rate but on the Poor Rate. What we call the Derating Act abolished this. We therefore had to find a new basis of qualification for voting, and we have found it in this gross annual value, to which Lord Dynevor has referred.
I am sorry if I did not make the matter absolutely clear to him. It is a very difficult point and I am quite sure that it was my fault. He says that the definition on the second page of the Bill is quite clear, but that he cannot understand why we have bothered to put 116 "gross annual value" in paragraph (i) on the first page. The reason for that, as I tried to say before, was that if we had said net annual value we should have got the annual value with certain deductions, which include the drainage rates, and that was not considered desirable. Therefore the draftsman thought it best to insert "gross annual value," and then to define those words in the terms which Lord Dynevor says he finds quite satisfactory. If he needs any re-assurance on that point I can assure him that it is the definition which is the governing clause of the Bill with regard to that particular matter. I think those are the only points raised, with the exception of the Scilly Isles, and I will have that matter looked into.
§ LORD STRACHIE
The noble Earl does not answer my question whether he will substitute for a court of summary jurisdiction the Quarter Sessions.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The court of summary jurisdiction is the court which is generally used. It is much easier and less expensive.
§ LORD STRACHIE
I can assure the Lord President that that is not so, because under the Local Government Act the court of summary jurisdiction is not brought in. However, I will put down an Amendment in Committee, and will ask leave to withdraw my present Amendment, the noble Earl having explained to my satisfaction that this Bill merely deals with the qualifications—
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.