HL Deb 03 June 1930 vol 77 cc1324-31

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, unfortunately I was not in the House yesterday when the Leader of the Opposition agreed to the Third Reading of this Bill being taken to-day. If I had been able to be present—and the noble Marquess knows why I was unable—I should certainly have protested against a Bill of this magnitude, which has been so much amended on Report, being put down for Third Reading without your Lordships having had an opportunity of seeing the amended Bill. It was not available until we came down to-day and was not circulated in the usual way. This is a Bill of great magnitude which affects local authorities very considerably. I have been asked, on behalf of the County Councils Association of which I am the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, to protest most strongly against the action of His Majesty's Government in taking the Third Reading without allowing us an opportunity of seeing the Bill as it was amended on Report. That seems to me to be a procedure which is hardly conducive to the dignity of this House. We have had no opportunity of considering the Bill in its new form or of consulting our advisers outside.

I had been given to understand that the idea was that there should be a full dress debate on the Third Reading and that, if the Government were not prepared to give some better assurances than they have already given as regards the effect of taxation falling upon the local rates, this Bill might not be allowed to go through your Lordships' House. At any rate a very strong protest has been made, and the County Councils Association is very strongly represented in this House. The association feels very strongly on this matter, and only last Wednesday their agricultural committee passed a very strong resolution which was confirmed by their executive. Let me just read to your Lordships the terms of that resolution. It was resolved:— That, as regards finance, the sub-committee are not prepared to depart from the position taken up by the agricultural advisory sub-committee, and they cannot, therefore, accept the clause proposed by the Government. Further, the sub-committee desire to make it clear that their demand for a grant of at least 50 per cent, of the total expenses of catchment boards is without prejudice to the right of the county councils to receive such higher grants as are now or may hereafter be payable in respect of certain land drainage schemes. I understand that this resolution was passed practically unanimously by the executive of the County Councils Association.

There is a further point on which, I understand, there has been a great deal of discussion. Owing to illness I was not able to be here on the previous stages of the Bill. The point concerns the proposed grants. Does the Government intend to give any grants in respect of administration and maintenance, which may be very serious items indeed? I may remind your Lordships that in 1928–9 the Ouse Drainage Board spent £13,491 in administration and £24,194 in maintenance, showing that this involves a very heavy expenditure, which would fall entirely upon the county council. Those of us who are members of county councils know that there is very strong feeling regarding the way in which rates have been going up lately, and we are not at all inclined to have any further expenditure put upon us. Yesterday the noble Earl said in effect that the whole of this question was going to be left vague, and that in some cases the Government were going to give more than 50 per cent. I suppose he thought that there were so many rich county councils that the statement was justified. I do not know whether his own county council is a rich one, but I understand that it is not. We find it a very heavy burden when we have a county rate of 10s. in the £ instead of 5s. I am told that in some counties the rate has actually gone up to 14s. in the £ I think there are very few rich counties, and that all the counties will want at least 50 per cent., and some of there more.

With regard to the question of unemployment, we want to know whether the percentages are going to be greater than 50 per cent. in relation to unemployment. At the moment it is not at all clear what the Government means to do in another place. Speaking on behalf of the County Councils Association, I can say that we felt that we ought to have an opportunity, after the Bill had been so much altered on Report, for further consideration of the matter, and we wanted seine declaration on the part of the Government as to what they mean to do regarding the financial clause. Evidently that is not the view taken by the Parliamentary Secretary. Perhaps, with this new shuffle, we may have a Minister of Agriculture in this House, for the present Minister is to be a member of this House. We know that the noble Earl opposite does very well and understands the Bill thoroughly, but of course he is not able, as Under-Secretary of State for War, to give the assurances that a great Minister would be able to give to this House. The presence of a noble Lord representing the Ministry would make it much easier to carry through a Bill of this kind. I am asked by the County Councils Association to say, in consequence of the manner in which this Bill is being hurried through by the noble Earl—I know that he has the support of the noble Marquess, who can do exactly what he likes in this House—that when the Bill gets down to another place the County Councils Association will oppose it at every stage.


I think the noble Lord is entitled to some kind of reply from the noble Earl.


I was going to reply, but I thought the noble Marquess intended to rise. I think a great number of the points have already been dealt with very fully on other stages and I will not venture to repeat things which have already been said. I am sure that we all regret very much the reasons for the noble Lord's absence from our debates up to now. We should very much have appreciated his advice and assistance on this Bill at an earlier stage, if he had been able to attend. The noble Lord has referred to the number of Amendments that were passed yesterday. Not a single one of those Amendments was on a new point, and every single one was passed with the full agreement of the House.


May I remind the noble Earl that a new provision giving power to exact tolls for navigation purposes was pressed, and was not passed?


I think that particular point was not included in the Bill, but every insertion made in the Bill was made with the full agreement of the House, excepting one or two Amendments which were inserted at the instance of noble Lords on the Opposition side of the House against the desire of the Government. The only other point mentioned was the question of the County Councils Association. Perhaps the noble Lord, who has been unfortunately absent from our debates, has been able to be present lately at the discussions of the County Councils Association, but I rather got the impression that he was not up-to-date in his knowledge of what the County Councils Association are thinking about. I am given to understand, quite definitely, that we are in full agreement on every point in this Bill with the County Councils Association, excepting on the question of rating and the financial clause, which will, as the noble Lord said quite rightly, have to receive very full discussion in another place. I do not know whether the noble Lord is actually making any proposal, but I have endeavoured to deal with the points he has raised, and I ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Third Reading. There is only one further point. I quite realise that in the last two stages of the Bill we have rather tried to hurry matters, but on another occasion I read out the course of this Bill and showed the tremendous amount of time which we wasted on this Bill in its earlier stages.


Not wasted, devoted to the Bill.


Whether it was wasted is a matter of opinion.


My Lords, in the first place I would like to say, as the noble Earl has said, how very glad we are to see Lord Strachie once more amongst us and taking part in our debates. I listened to him with attention, and the only criticism which I venture to make upon his speech is that he attributed to me far greater influence and power than I possess. I deprecate very much that point of view. We are placed in a rather difficult position by the action of the Government on this Bill, in the manner in which I will describe. Let me first of all say that in every other respect except the matter of fixing the time for taking this Bill we have been treated very well indeed by the noble Earl in charge of the Bill. I have sat through the very long discussions upon a subject which is not very thrilling, and I am bound to say that I have never heard a Bill conducted with greater consideration than has been shown by the noble Earl.

That is what makes me inclined to take a rather lenient view of the actual proceedings this afternoon. The noble Earl said that the Bill dawdled a good deal in its earlier stages. I have here the facts in that respect, and I do not propose to trouble you with them, but a good deal of the reason for the delay was want of full admission by the Government, or rather announcement by the Government, of their intentions in regard to the money which was to be supplied by the Treasury. There was also a White Paper which it was necessary to circulate, and which the Government had not circulated. Those were matters in which it was the fault of the Government, and not the fault of your Lordships, that there was delay. Then the Bill got into Committee. It was a laborious process, and there was a large number of Amendments. I will not say that the House was unanimous, as the noble Earl rather suggested, about the Amendments. That was not quite the case, but I think that on the greater number of matters on which your Lordships took a strong view the Government gave way. Perhaps I might say that they had no other course open to them than to give way, but they did give way and did it in very pleasing language.

So the Bill, in so far as major portions are concerned, is largely modified in the direction which your Lordships thought fit. I will not say that the Government went the whole way, but the result is in the nature of a compromise. Then, finally, came the question of the Report stage of the Bill. The noble Earl has always been very sanguine as to the time it would take to make the necessary arrangements between the stages of the Bill. He tried to take the Report stage too soon, and found it was necessary to adjourn and take a few more days before the Report stage. He thought he was ready, but oddly enough, taking advantage of the extra time, a whole row of Government Amendments appeared on the Paper. It was no surprise to me. I was too familiar with the process of getting Bills through to be in the least surprised at the misfortunes of the noble Earl. We have now come to the last stages of the Bill. I begged him to put it off to the last possible day before the Recess, that is to-morrow. He would not do that, and consequently the Bill is now before your Lordships.

What course ought we to take? I confess that after the great courtesy of the noble Earl and the great success of the Opposition in many of their Amendments, I feel very reluctant to refuse him his Third Reading before Whitsuntide, because in those valuable conversations which take place in other parts of your Lordships' House than this Chamber there was a sort of understanding that the Bill should get through before Whitsuntide if it could possibly be managed; and, therefore, I should be reluctant to prevent it. But I hope he will not think me too patronising if I ask him to let the Opposition, on another occasion when they are well disposed, advise him as to how many days the thing really takes, and to profit by their advice.


I do not quite understand that. Of course, we are always grateful to the noble Marquess for his advice, but does he think that we can take the Third Reading now?—because that is the one point. I hope it will be taken now; it was put down for to-day. But that entirely depends on the attitude of the noble Marquess.


The understanding I referred to was that the Bill should get through before the Whitsuntide Recess; but, as regards that, I do not wish to pronounce any opinion between to-day and to-morrow. I do not think it matters much.


You think the Third Reading really may be taken now?


That is really for your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I should like to ask whether the Government draftsman has had time to look through the very numerous Amendments made yesterday and to consider whether they will not necessitate some further Amendments after the Third Reading. I have looked through the Bill in the few minutes allotted to us since it was published, and I find some undoubted cases where there ought to be Amendments. I do not think they are of great importance, but they are proper verbal Amendments.


I can assure your Lordships that the Government draftsman has been through the Bill, and is satisfied with its state.

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Extent and short title.

78.—(1) This Act shall not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland.

(2) This Act may be cited as the Land Drainage Act, 1930.

(3) This Act shall come into operation on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty-three.

EARL DE LA WARR moved, at the end of the clause, to insert as a new subsection: (4) Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge on the people or vary the amount or incidence of or otherwise alter any such charge in any manner, or affect the assessment, levying, administration or application of any money raised by any such charge. The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment is only a matter of form. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Clause 78, after subsection (3) insert the said new subsection.—(Earl De La Warr.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.